Bonhams to sell rare paintings by leading modern Chinese artist purged during the Cultural Revolution

Fine Chinese Art
16 May 2013
London, New Bond Street

A dozen works by Lin Fengmian (1900 -1991), a painter considered a pioneer of modern Chinese painting best known for blending Chinese and Western painting styles features in Bonhams next Chinese Art sale on May 16th in London.

The pictures come from two private English collections. In one case a family member studied with this artist and acquired signed pictures produced by Lin Fengmian during his classes.

Produced with ink and colour on paper the images range from human figures to landscapes and seascapes, numerous images of women and birds. They range in price from £5,000 to £100,000.

Asaph Hyman, Director of Chinese Art comments: "Bonhams is delighted to be entrusted with such extraordinary works by Lin Fengmian, an artist who was painting with the vision of the 20th-century, while contemporary Chinese artists lagged behind. This group of Lin Fengmians, bought directly from the artist, show this melding of the two schools of art."

Much of Lin's art was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The rarity of his paintings explains their value and how his importance brought him not only great honours, but also profound suffering. In the late 1930s when China was at war with Japan, soldiers ruined Lin's home and many of his paintings. In 1966, as the Cultural Revolution officially got under way, Lin himself soaked his works in water, then flushed the pulp down the toilet of his Shanghai apartment. He did this so that his art could not be used against him and his friends. For years until he was allowed to leave China, he was tortured and persecuted for being an intellectual and an artist.'

Lin is revered as an Asian contemporary painting master, and his style is prized for being distinctively Chinese despite his use of Western visual language. Art history scholars regard Lin as a founding father of this branch of Chinese painting that emerged in the 1930s. While Lin worked with rice paper and inks, he broke with the conventions of the time by, among other elements, favouring a square format as opposed to the usual long scrolls and employing bright hues.

Two highlights are:

Lot 254 Opera scene' Ink and colour on paper, depicts a scene from 'The Gates at the Southern Heavens', framed and glazed is estimated at £60,000-100,000.

The painting portrays a scene from the Beijing Opera 'Southern Heaven's Gate'. The story takes place during the Ming Dynasty when a high minister was ensnared in an ambush by his political rival, the powerful eunuch Wei Zhongxian. On hearing the news, the minister's wife committed suicide. However, a loyal old servant, depicted in the present lot with a white beard, helped to escort the young daughter Cao Yulian to seek refuge with relatives. The opera narrates their difficult journey together through the snow and ice pursued by enemies.

Lot 255 'Seated Lady with Flowers' is made with Ink and colour on paper, signed and sealed at the bottom left, mounted, framed and glazed.
Estimated at £60,000-100,000 it was purchased in Shanghai by the owner's father while he was working for the Shell Oil Company, circa 1952.

Lin Fengmian (1900-91) studied in France from 1920 to 1925. He was fascinated by the leading 20th century Western painting styles, such as Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism and Synthetic Cubism. He finally created his own 20th-century Chinese style. In 1926 he returned to China, where he was appointed the Director and Professor of National Beijing Fine Art School.

After being purged in the Cultural Revolution, he was finally granted a visa to visit his family in Brazil. Stopping first in Hong Kong, he then returned and lived most of the rest of his life in Hong Kong, where he passed away at the Adventist Hospital in 1991. Lin Fengmian had always retained his close links to France, where he had studied in the 1920s. These links caused him considerable difficulties during the Cultural Revolution, where they were used against him.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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