Reclining Woman with Fan Oil on canvas, framed Signed Chen Yifei in English and Chinese Circa 1996 With a label of Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd on the reverse, No. 309661 With Chen Yifei Estate's stamp, CYE/RC/No.7, on the reverse 130cm x 155cm (51¼in x 61in).
Provenance: Chen Yifei Estate, CYE/RC/No.7 Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd A British private collector, acquired in October 2006
Exhibited: Chen Yifei: Hommage à Chen Yifei 1946-2005, Marlborough Monaco, 19 April to 15 June 2007
Thin mist, dense clouds, sad I stay. In the golden censer, the burning incense is dying away. Festival time, again the Double Ninth. Alone I remain behind the silken curtains on a jade pillow, Feeling the midnight chill first penetrates. Drinking wine by the East Hedges at dusk, A furtive fragrance fills my sleeve. Do not say my spirit is not worn, When curtains furl in the west wind, I am more fragile than the chrysanthemum. -- Tipsy Under the Flowers on Double Ninth by Li Qingzhao
Characterised by soft lines as well as dark and dense colours, Chen Yifei's paintings have been praised by the media in the west as a style of 'romantic realism', always revealing a strong Chinese sensibility in a perfect blend of western artistic techniques. Chen shared, in a 1997 interview, that since the 1960s, he had started reading poetry of the Tang and Song periods, after gaining an insight that poetry and painting originate from the same source. His favourite was Li Qingzhao, evident in many of his paintings that were inspired by her verses. (See Susu, 'Cultural Noble: Chen Yifei', originally published in New Modern Art Times, 1999, June issue.) With a poetic, dream-like quality, 'Reclining Woman with Fan' which was executed in 1996, is an important work of his 'Old Dreams of Shanghai' series. By means of his classic sfumato (blurring) technique, the artist portrays a demurely elegant lady dressed in qipao holding a fan. She reclines by the golden embroidered pillow, as if on the verge of rising; in her somber gaze there is a hint of melancholy filled with subtle beauty, not lacking in quiet resolution. Filled with emotional intensity, this work recalls the mood in Tipsy Under the Flowers on Double Ninth written by Song dynasty 'delicate restraint' poetess Li Qingzhao.
Chen Yifei sets the tone of 'Reclining Woman with Fan' as classic and quiet by means of skillful composition. In the form of an asymmetrical triangle, the work has an enduring and reticent quality. Through tonal contrasts and the use of the golden ratio, the visual focus lies in the face of the fan-holding beauty, which serves as the focal point of communication between the work and the viewer. The facial expression of this enigmatic, glacial beauty is cold as frost, as if haunted by a troubled past or a reflection of her life experiences that triggers the viewer's imagination. Reclining on the floor, her left elbow bends into an elegant perpendicular. She leans forward, extending her arms to form a crescent-like shape. The floral patterned fan mirrors her face, expressing a sense of emotional stability while injecting vigor and visual tension into the scene.
Chen deploys the infectious visual language of light to create an ambiance of romance and mysterious exaltation. From the upper right, a stream of artificial light illuminates the lady's facial features, and shines on her exquisite robe of gold, green and burgundy hues, forming delicate and graceful creases. The dark-coloured carpet patterned with central medallions as well as the simple, dim background further accentuate his meticulous lighting arrangement, lending a sculptural and theatrical effect to the figure. Celebrated for the classicism and the majesty of a single moment frozen in time, this painting is reminiscent of the famous work 'Danae' by 17th century Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn (see illustrated).
Chen Yifei once said, "the beauty of women lies in paintings." From the late 1980s, he started to create a series of works featuring graceful women in traditional Chinese attire. The first step of figural drawing is the selection of suitable models to represent an artist's particular imagery; for Chen, he had always adhered to his canons of female beauty: elegance and extravagance. From the model Chen Wenyun in his oil work 'Waiting for the Rising Moon in the Western Chamber' to Wen Xiaorong in 'Poppy', Dong Xian in 'Gazing out of the Window', Ye Jihong in 'Fan', then to Song Meiying in 'In the Night Club' (the latter becoming his wife), all of them exude beauty and glamourous sophistication. The lady shown in the present lot 'Reclining Woman with Fan' is said to be a well-known model, Chen Juanhong, whom Chen Yifei previously acknowledged to be "the best female model." (See Yang Changxun, Visual Life: The Biography of Chen Yifei, Shanghai Bookstore Publishing House, 2006, p. 110.) For another work modelled by Chen Juanhong, see 'Listening to Birds Song' (Sotheby's Hong Kong, 3rd October 2011, Lot 776).
If Chen's 'Musician' series, created in the 1980s, is regarded as pioneering in the oil portrayal of the female musician theme, then 'Reclining Woman with Fan', representative of his 'Old Dreams of Shanghai' series, can be seen as a more profound cultural exploration of the female subject in the 1990s, also an artistic elevation. To explore the ethos and culture of old Shanghai, Chen travels back in time to the 1930s. He once said, "Putting aside the differences in time, I endeavour to present the vestiges of ancient Chinese culture. The robes (worn by my models) are traditional, but their faces are modern. I wish to convey an impression of orientalism, not just a picture of beauties, but a cultural representation." (See Wang Manping, 'Breathtaking Xunyang', published in Jiang Zuxuan ed., Chen Yifei: The Legend, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha, 1999, p.156.) From this perspective, through his silhouettes of ethereal women in private quarters in the Republican-era Shanghai, Chen intensifies his pursuit of romanticism and nostalgia. Indeed, by reviving the old glory of Shanghai's bygone days and its humanistic spirit, Chen presents the artistic essence of a period of Chinese cultural history.
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