Fine Chinese Paintings at Sotheby's Hong Kong

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Fine Chinese Paintings at Sotheby's Hong Kong
The Yongle Shakyamuni, an Extremely Rare and Important Exceptionally Large Gilt-Bronze Figure of Shakyamuni Buddha (72.5cm, 281/2 in.).

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong today announces the Fine Chinese Paintings Autumn Sale to be held at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on October 7. The sale composed of a morning and afternoon session features a special collection, “Vermillion Pavillion Collection of Twentieth Century Fine Chinese Paintings”. The collection comprises 60 exquisite works by the most celebrated Chinese painters of the 20th century, including Fu Baoshi, Zhang Daqian and Xu Beihong. Highly important and never been publicly exhibited, the collection is estimated at HK$20 million.

The Vermillion Pavillion Collection is owned by Fei Cheng Wu (1911 - 2000) and his wife, Chang Chien Ying (1909 - 2003), the beloved students of late Chinese painting master Xu Beihong (1895 – 1953). Under the auspices of Xu, who was one of the board of directors of the Sino-British Boxer Indemnity, the couple, along with his two other students, were sent to England for fine arts education in 1946. On the strength of their sophisticated Chinese ink painting techniques, Fei and Chang earned themselves a reputation in the local art society. Chang was invited to become a member of several prestigious arts organisations, including Royal Watercolour Society and Society of Female Artists in England. The couple is also listed on Who’s Who of the British art circles.

All items from the Vermillion Pavillion Collection are dedicated works of the renowned Chinese painters. In addition to a high degree of artistic value, they also crystallize the profound friendship between the artists and recipients of the paintings.

Mr. C K Cheung, Head of Chinese Paintings Department of Sotheby’s said, “Since the special collection has never been publicly exhibited and comprises exquisite works from renowned painters, representing the unwavering friendships between the artists and recipients, we are confident that it will create substantial excitement and expectations among collectors.”

Chronologically, these paintings were incorporated into the Vermillion Pavillion Collection in three major periods:

The Nanjing period of mid 1930s

This period saw Fei and Chang graduating from the Fine Arts Faculty of Nanjing Central University. Though new to the art circuit, the two of them impressed Xu Beihong with their artistic potential and came under his apprenticeship. Later, through Xu’s network, they began acquiring the works of many senior painters.

The Chongqing period of the 1940s

Spanning from 1942 to 1946, the Chongqing period was highlighted by an assimilation of the most brilliant paintings into the Vermillion Pavillion Collection. With warfare raging at that time, Fei and Chang took an active role in the Chongqing arts conduit, while helping Xu Beihong set up the Chinese Fine Arts Academy in Panxi. Having fostered friendship with many of their peers, the couple came to acquire a wealth of their paintings, all of which were magnificent pieces of art. One of these gems is Various Subjects, which features a collection of paintings from Fu Baoshi and other accomplished artists. In 1946, on the eve of their departure for England, Fei and Chang were given many paintings by their fellow artists as farewell gifts.

Highlighting Album of Various Subjects (Lot no. 533)(estimated at HK$2 million - HK$3 million) are the works of 7 artists, including Fu Baoshi. Divided into 13 leaves, it depicts a range of themes that each of these painters specialised in. Among them is Pan Xunqin’s delineation of ethnic females; fine-line paintings of flowers and birds by Xie Zhiliu and Chen Zhifo and Lin Fengmian’s painting of the Jialing lakeside. Half of the works in the compilation are by Xu Beihong. Other thematic subjects are also covered, such as eagles soaring high in the air during hot summer, tiny sparrows flying gracefully and oxen taking a leisurely bath. Most unique of all is Portrait of Liu Mazi by Fu Baoshi. In this painting, the protagonist Liu Mazi is represented as a balding man, with a fleshy nose, drooping eyebrows and a faint stubble, seated on a boulder by the lakeside, lost in deep thoughts. Next to him, the willows are swaying in a light breeze, above a grassy meadow.

Known for his exacting creative standards, Fu Baoshi was never a prolific artist. He was not inclined towards giving away his paintings, except to his best friends. This is the reason why Fu Baoshi’s paintings are so hard to come by, compared to other 20th century Chinese artists. Of his limited body of works, his hand scrolls and albums are even rarer. The one he did for Chang Chien Ying is entitled Album of Landscapes and Figures (Lot no. 580)(HK$4 million - HK$6 million). In it, human figures blend harmoniously with a breathtaking backdrop of mountains and streams. Inspired by literary works and ancient Chinese history, the artist’s portrayal of the majestic landscape mirrors the breadth of his vision, matched only by the prowess of artistic techniques he employed in creating it. The presence of this painting in the Vermillion Pavillion Collection testifies to the close friendship between Fei and Chang.

Another masterpiece by Fu is Lady under a Willow THK$5 million), which he painted in 1946 as a token of friendship to bade Chang Chien Ying farewell, prior to her trip to England. A distinguishing feature of this painting is the deliberate portrayal of landscape to evoke the artist’s inner feelings. Dedicated two full days to complete the painting, Fu constructed the lady figure with fine lines and finest proportion. The colour composition of the overall painting is clean and streamlined, eliciting the artist’s melancholy as he was about to part ways with a good friend.

Viewing Waterfall in Pine Pavillion (Lot no. 578) (est. HK$1.8 million - HK$2 million) was painted by Fu Baoshi to as a parting gift for Fei Cheng Wu. Completed during the period when both artists were in Chongqing, it featured a theme that was popular with artists of that era. Despite its unremarkable size, the painting is full of delicate details in its structural composition, as seen from the flowing strokes in ink. An exemplary model of Chinese landscape painting, it was kept by the artist himself for two years before he presented it to Fei Cheng Wu as a departure gift.

Xu Beihong’s Lady with a Fan (Lot. No. 557) (est. HK$1 million - HK$1.8 million) was executed in 1943. Rendered in a romantic manner, it was inspired by Tang dynasty paintings of court ladies, which marks a departure from Xu’s usual delineations of sturdy and resolute females. In artistic style, it is closer to traditional paintings of this genre, where the classic females come across as slender and physically frail, in a posture with arms overlapping. In this painting, a solitary lady is seen in a robe covered with rain droplets, while fallen flowers are all over the ground. A pair of swallows flying beside her only accentuates her solitude.

Another definitive work by Xu Beihong is Zodiac Animals (Lot no. 579) (HK$2.2 million - HK$3 million), created in 1946. It was meant to be a farewell gift for Chang Chien Ying. Xu Beihong was an expert at painting animals, particularly horses. But judging from the existing range of works he left behind, there is no denying that Zodiac Animals is a rarity with its proper and systematic depiction of Chinese creatures. In addition, it bears the signature endorsement of Zhang Daqian, a close acquaintance of Xu. This symbol of unflagging friendship has greatly enhanced the commemorative value of the painting.

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