Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy
Classical, Modern and Contemporary Ink
25 May 2014
Hong Kong, Admiralty

After the successful launch of the first Chinese ink paintings sale in November 2013, Bonhams Hong Kong will present an expanded sale of Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy: Classical, Modern and Contemporary Ink on 25 Sunday at 1:30pm at the new Bonhams Hong Kong Gallery, Suite 2001, One Pacific Place, Admiralty. Bonhams is the third largest international fine art auction house.

The sale offers 329 lots ranging from classical masterpieces to contemporary art works representative of one of the oldest and best-known Chinese art forms over five centuries.

Chinese Classical Paintings & Calligraphy

The classical section has a strengthened lot count of 125 with many masterpieces including Tale of the Old Drunkard Pavilion by Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), Children at Play by Leng Mei (active 1677-1742), Autumn Landscape by Wang Yuanqi (1675-1715) as well as literati paintings by Weng Tonghe (1830-1904), Yang Wencong (1597-1646) and Bian Wenyu (1576-1671).

Lot 1149, Tale of the Old Drunkard Pavilion, by Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) is estimated at HK$6.5 – 9.5 million. This handscroll was completed in the yimao year of the Jiajing era, equivalent to 1555. Though executed at 86 by traditional Chinese age calculation, the hand of 'the old man of Hengshan' remains disciplined and vigorous, yet elegant and alluring, even in his later years. This work comes from the collection of noted artist Jin Yu, with the inscription on the exterior mounting written by Tang Yi and the introductory colophon by Jin Yumin in seal script. Qi Gong, Zheng Yongxian and Liang Shunian in turn would contribute colophons to the end of the scroll. Especially notable is the lengthy inscription by Qi Gong from 1974. Not only does he definitively ascribe the work to the hand of Wen Zhengming in his old age, Qi goes on to praise the scroll's 'spirited brushwork and rigorous structure', which contributes to the appeal and rarity of this work.

Lot 1147, Children at Play, by Leng Mei (active 1677-1742) is estimated at HK$5 – 8 million. Leng Mei was an early Qing court artist who studied painting under the tutelage of fellow court artist Jiao Bingzhen. In the thirtieth year of the Kangxi era (1691), he contributed to the production of the twelve scrolls depicting the Kangxi Emperor's southern inspection tour and later in the fifty-third year of the Kangxi era (1714), participated in the court- sponsored depiction of the lavish celebration of the Kangxi Emperor's birthday. Children at Play is composed on a horizontal axis on a massive scale, at 114.5cm tall and 225cm wide. Of vibrant and brilliant colour, it depicts numerous children amidst gardens and rockery, raucously playing games amidst the lush foliage. The work is extremely densely composed, with seemingly little to no empty space. Upon close inspection, these frolicking dozens of children are all male, without a single little girl. According to research compiled by Nie Chongzheng at the Beijing Palace Museum, this image was likely completed during the Yongzheng era, for the future Qianlong Emperor Hongli during his regency as Prince Bao.

Chinese Modern Paintings & Calligraphy

Chinese Modern Paintings and Calligraphy have always assumed a significant place at Bonhams Hong Kong's auctions. For this sale, 160 lots have been carefully selected to make up this component. Highlights include A Pair Perched Amidst Red Leaves and Landscape in Switzerland, both by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), the latter from the family collection of Wang Deguan (1905-1987). Autumn Scenery by Lin Fengmian (1900-1991) and Grazing Under the Tree by Xu Beihong (1895-1953), both from important overseas collections, also warrant special mention.

Lot 1278, A Pair Perched Amidst Red Leaves, is estimated at HK$2 – 3 million. Of bird-and-flower subject matter rendered in precise gongbi style, the work depicts a pair of birds at leisure upon a high branch of red leaves. Though composed of lavishly sleek ink directed with a masterfully controlled and concentrated technique, at no point does the painting seem workmanly or rote. Tucked away at the bottom right corner, the scholars' rocks are rendered in one blow both shou and tou, or suitably 'thin' and 'hole-pocked', providing the work with an ashen and turbid, even otherworldly juxtaposition. A multi-branched frond of bamboo arches horizontally across these rocks, the indigo hues seeming to tremble in the wind, providing further contrast in both colour and position with the high branches of red leaves. Completed in the second lunar month of the wuzi year (equivalent to 1948), when Zhang Daqian would have been 50 years old, the present work is a bird-and-flower masterpiece of the artist in his prime. Though initially acquired in Shanghai, since 1950 the work has been in an important Hong Kong family collection.

Lot 1255, Landscape in Switzerland, estimated at HK$1 – 2 million, is also by Zhang Daqian. This painting comes from the family collection of Wang Deguan (1905-1987). Born in Jiangsu, China, Wang was an avid art lover and was especially fond of black-and-white photography. With his own photo laboratory, he created artistic photomontages and was a member of several prestigious photographic societies such as The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, The Photographic Society of America and The Photographic Society of China. When Zhang Daqian visited Switzerland, Wang introduced him to scenic landscapes in Central Switzerland and created a photomontage staging the celebrated Chinese painter in Swiss scenery. Zhang Daqian in turn offered Wang this painting as a gift of appreciation.

Chinese Contemporary Ink

In the area of Chinese Contemporary Ink, Bonhams Hong Kong presents 44 lots by notable masters such as Li Jin (b.1958), Xue Liang (b.1956), Xu Lele (b.1955), Cheng Qikuan (1921-2007), Irene Chou (1924-2011), Zeng Xiaojun (b.1954), Zeng Jianyong (b.1971), Gu Wenda (b.1955) and Zhang Huan (b.1965).

Lot 1390, Dry Cargo, by Li Jin is estimated at HK$380,000 – 480,000. As one of the best-known and most unorthodox Chinese contemporary ink painters, Li Jin's works celebrate lust for sex and food, which are a marked departure from the transcendence and elegance emphasised in traditional Chinese literati paintings. Dry Cargo is representative of Li Jin's arts and culinary tour, which he started in March 2012. This painting pays homage to Suiyuan Shidan, a manual on cooking and gastronomy authored by Qing dynasty poet and food critic, Yuan Mei. Written in the form of classical Chinese literary notes, the manual documents culinary practices and cooking techniques adopted in the Zhejiang area, during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. It is an important gastronomic manual of the Qing dynasty, which contains detailed accounts of 326 dishes popular in the northern and southern parts of China, from the 14th to 18th centuries. From his gastronomic tour of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, Li Jin has specially incorporated into this painting, local delicacies cited in Suiyuan Shidan, such as the Yunlin goose and the crucian carp. He has transferred his sensory delights from the tip of his tongue to the tip of his brush, resulting in this pictorial feast.


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