An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969
Lot 397
An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern'
1968-1969
Sold for £62,500 (US$ 100,178) inc. premium

Lot Details
An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969 An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern' 1968-1969
An exceptional set of ten inlaid plaques and an introduction plaque depicting scenes from 'The Red Lantern'
1968-1969
Each panel with a red lacquer base inlaid with mother-of-pearl to form a series heroically depicting the revolutionary martyr Li Yuho and his daughter. Each panel 45.8cm x 30.5cm (18in x 12in) (11).

Footnotes

  • 1968-1969年 紅漆嵌螺鈿「紅燈記」圖板(共十一件)

    Provenance: produced at Yangzhou and exhibited in China until the end of the Cultural Revolution, and then placed in storage at the No.1 State Lacquer Factory in Yangzhou
    Exhibited at the Olympia Fine Arts and Antiques Fair, New Art from Ancient China - Lacquer from Yangzhou, November 1998
    A British private collection

    來源:產於揚州,一直出展在中國直到文化大革命結束,後存在揚州第一漆廠的儲存室
    1998年11月出展於奧林比亞藝術及古董博覽會的《New Art from Ancient China - Lacquer from Yangzhou》展覽
    英國私人收藏

    Designed by Associate Professor Zhong Zhaochun, based in the Jiangsu Institute of Art, Nanjing
    Made by Senior Master Li Duanhua

    This important set of eleven plaques was designed and made over fifteen months during 1968-1969. At the end of 1969, they were the main feature in a special exhibition called 'New Creative Work' held in Nanjing before being transferred to Beijing. The plaques illustrate ten scenes from the Peking Opera 'The Red Lantern'. The introduction plaque is a facsimile of the calligraphy of Mao Zedong is taken from his talks on the role of art and literature in the Communist state, given at the "Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art" in 1940 (延安文艺座谈会). The sentence summarises Mao's main point that art should reflect and serve the concerns of the people, and that it should serve politics.

    In 1966 the Peking Opera companies were placed under military control and discipline. Mao's wife Jiang Qing, who was an official adviser on cultural works to the People's Liberation Army, took control. In 1967 she listed five 'model theatrical works' to be performed by the Peking Opera. These were: Raid on the White Tiger Regiment, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, Sha-chia-pang, The Red Lantern and On the Docks.

    The Red Lantern tells the story of the poeple's hero Li Yuho. Set during the anti-Japanese war, Li Yuho, a railway switchman, is held and interrogated by the Japanese so he is unable to pass a secret code to the resistance forces. Although suffering appalling tortures and before sacrificing his own life, he is able to pass on the struggle to his daughter. The revolutionary traditions, symbolised by the red lantern, continue.

    This is the only set of inlaid lacquer plaques known to have been made to illustrate any of the 'model theatrical works'.

    Each plaque is titled with inlaid calligraphy as follows:

    1. Quote from Mao Zedong's speech at the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art, May 1942, and written in Mao's own calligraphy:
    'All our literature and art are for the masses of the people, and in the first place for the workers, peasants and soldiers; they are created for the workers, peasants and soldiers and are for their use.'
    2. Working Class Hero
    3. Nothing is too difficult for the Party
    4. Using rice soup to hide the secret code.
    5. Grandmother remembers the family history and class bitterness
    6. Refusing the bribe from the enemy
    7. His idealism reaches the sky
    8. With hatred in her heart, she is determined to continue the struggle
    9. The sword kills the enemy
    10. I will not be satisfied until I have killed all the beasts
    11. The victory light shines forever


    CELEBRATING THE 'NEW CHINA': LACQUER OF THE 1960s-1970s FROM YANGZHOU

    Yangzhou, at the meeting of the Grand Canal and the Yangtze River, is the site of the 'No.1 State Lacquer Factory', which is the source of these splendid lacquer panels. The group of panels offered in this sale represents probably the most remarkable and innovative group manufactured in the 20th century. The larger panels offer the appearance of grand Western-style oil paintings, but also deploy the elaborate traditional carving techniques of Chinese lacquer to add richness and variety of texture and depth. The plaques are unashamedly political statements, stressing that the highly controversial 'New Society' has transformed the old, enriching the country and restoring China to its leading place in the world.

    The history of the plaques before 1997

    Yangzhou has been the source of China's finest lacquer for at least 2000 years. Quite possibly the famous eared oval cup was made here, whose inscription (with a date equating to AD 4) mentions 'the 13 supervisors responsible for its manufacture' (see N.Macgregor, History of the World in 100 Objects, London, 2010, chapter 34). It was therefore natural for the Chinese Government to commission from Yangzhou, during the twelve years after 1966, these fine monuments to celebrate what the Government regarded as its recent past and present achievements.

    The wholesale re-organisation of the country during this turbulent period ensured that the factory was glad of the work. The finest artists working in the field (such as Lu Xingtang, a pupil of Fu Baoshi) created the designs, and senior masters such as Zhang Yu and Li Duanhua supervised the production of the panels to the highest standards. Cost, resources and time constraints did not apply.

    The plaques were commissioned for leading government figures such as Lin Biao. Jiangdu Pumping Station was ordered by the Beijing government and exhibited there before touring nationwide. Others, like The Story of The Red Lantern, took over 15 months to complete, and were first displayed in Nanjing before going on public exhibition in Beijing. Their subject matter was carefully attuned to the wishes of Mao Zedong's wife, and followed one of the standard theatrical models of the day.

    The subjects chosen were important to country's leaders, displaying the perceived achievements of the 'New China', and in particular presenting an impression of the harmonious working together of the Chinese peoples under the new social order.

    Key subjects were:
    - technical and scientific achievements/water control and management;
    - giant infrastructure and civil engineering projects;
    - social harmony of all the races of China;
    - martyrs who built the 'New China' and its society;
    - the primacy of ordinary people and their happiness with China today;
    - defending the borders of the 'New China'; pride in its natural beauties;
    - famous moments commemorating the rise of the reborn nation;
    - Chairman Mao and popular loyalty/accord with his aims;
    - praise for other Party leaders and famous associated places.

    Key nationally-approved images in prints and paintings were readily adapted for use on some of the plaques, as it was important for all the arts to convey messages in tune with one another. Other important features were social realism, recognition of the importance of women's efforts, and that art existed solely to record the whole population's co-ordinated achievements.

    After Mao's death in 1976, and the ensuing massive political and economic changes, much of the 'Public Art' of his later years was destroyed. This was in the mistaken belief that the achievements of these years had been a wrong turning. On their return from exhibition, having served their prime purpose, the lacquer was put into inadequate storage at the back of the State Lacquer Factory. Probably it was natural caution that encouraged the plaques' storage rather than destruction.

    In the event the radical political changes of the 1980's meant they found no further use.

    By 1997, under the direction of Senior Master Li Duanhua (their original production supervisor, now in charge of national lacquer quality control), many of the plaques were carefully refreshed towards their original state.

    THE SENIOR MASTER LI DUANHUA AS CREATOR

    Senior Master Li Duanhua was born in 1942 and entered the Yangzhou No.1. State Lacquer Factory in 1958 as an apprentice to Senior Master Zhai Yong Shou. He specialised in mother-of-pearl inlay. In 1965, at the remarkably early age of 23, he was appointed to the position of Master of Lacquerware after reaching a high technical standard and despite having had no revolutionaries in his family background.

    After the start of the Cultural Revolution, the young masters took control of production at the factory. Li Duanhua took on the major task of 'The Red Lantern set. He worked seven days a week from dawn to dusk, and there was no electricity for light. He recalls that period as one of being filled with great spirit. There was no commercial pressure or time scale, just a compelling desire to produce their finest work in the name of the Revolution. Although often exhausted, he could hardly wait to get back to work in the morning, singing Mao's songs on the way. He then worked on another plaque, The Official Opening of the Yangzi River Bridge, as Senior Master in charge.

    Towards the end of 1972, after finishing the plaque The Great Union of All the Races of China (lot 404 in this sale), he was transferred to the No.2. Light Industry Bureau as Revolutionary Movement Officer.

    In 1978 he returned to the No.1 Factory as Vice-Director in charge of technical production. In 1982 he was appointed the Vice-Director of the Yangzhou Art and Craft Research Institute. In 1985 he was appointed National Lacquerware Quality Control Office for the whole of China, based at the National Lacquerware Control Centre at Yangzhou. Over the winter and spring of 1997-1998, Senior Master Li Duanhua supervised the restoration of the Cultural Revolution plaques in this collection, and he believes these plaques to be amongst the finest lacquerware to have been produced.





    A NOTE FROM THE COLLECTOR

    We first saw these remarkable Chinese lacquers during their UK public showing at the November 1998 Olympia Antiques Fair; the Chinese Ambassador had kindly opened the exhibition.

    We were amazed at their quality, with long-established high-quality manufacturing techniques used to portray outstanding achievements in the 'New China'. We knew that China had always held calligraphy and the other visual arts in the highest esteem, but wrongly believed that matters had changed since 1949 and the finest quality was no longer produced.

    Not a bit of it!

    We should not have been so unquestioning of the oft-stated view that the Arts had declined in China. These lacquer panels, commissioned at the highest levels of Government from the later 1960s, proved the opposite i.e. the virtue of the old Latin phrase 'Human life is short, but art travels on and on down human history' (ars longa, vita brevis est). The technical standards achieved at Yangzhou at this period equal any in the long history of Chinese lacquer.

    Nonetheless, these astonishing lacquers were completed at a time of great difficulties and radical change for the Chinese peoples, in their determination to transform the old Imperial agricultural order and start anew. They celebrate key moments, and monuments, in China's inexorable surge from humiliation to wealth and power through harnessing industrialised capitalism. The 'resilience and vitality' depicted on these panels is part of a pattern which explains the unparalleled material and cultural development of China in the last 20 years.

    We have much enjoyed the company of this great art for some 14 years. Declining health has encouraged us to offer this group for sale now, to give other collectors the chance to enjoy these remarkable and historically important documents reflecting 20th century China in transition.
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