Artist to Know: Huang Binhong

Liz Catalano
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DuMouchelles Offers Ink Painting by Chinese Literati Painter Who Advanced Modernism

Huang Binhong spent the early days of his career lost in histories of the past. Huang was an early 20th-century Chinese painter, connoisseur, and art historian who unexpectedly found himself at the threshold of radical change later in life. He chose to balance the preservation of the past with the development of a new future. Huang’s brush-and-ink paintings occupy an unusual space in the Chinese art canon, one that hints at the Modernism that came to dominate the 20th century. 

On the second day of DuMouchelles’ upcoming September Collection sale, a watercolor and ink painting by Huang Binhong will be available. The auction begins at 11:00 AM EDT on September 10th, 2021. Before placing a bid, learn more about Huang Binhong’s life and legacy.

Statue of Huang Binhong in Hangzhou, China, [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.
Statue of Huang Binhong in Hangzhou, China, [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

Art was a constant presence in Huang Binhong’s early life. The grandson of famed painter Huang Fengliu, the younger Huang received art training from Chen Chunfan as a young man in Zhejiang province. Huang also started collecting art at a young age. This hobby fascinated him and inspired a deeper interest in art history. Though Huang studied the artistic output of previous dynasties, his political views were staunchly against the Manchu dynasty in the early 1900s. His revolutionary activities eventually brought trouble. Huang was forced to flee his home and take refuge in Shanghai. He spent the next several decades publishing art books and editing for various journals, newspapers, and other publications. 

Huang painted some original works during this period but remained focused on his publishing efforts until 1937. That year, the National Government of the Republic of China hired Huang to appraise and verify the authenticity of various paintings at the Palace Museum in Beijing. At the time, appraisals did not yet benefit from scientific and chemical advancements. It depended entirely on a culture of connoisseurship that drew from firsthand experience, art education, and the appraiser’s knowledge of painting principles. Connoisseurs such as Huang also had to mind the long history of copying and imitation in Chinese art. This practice was not viewed as plagiarism but rather a way of mastering old techniques and preserving the past. Huang spent years learning to separate genuine paintings from imitations. 

Huang’s time as a connoisseur and art appraiser deeply affected his art style. His paintings explored and preserved traditional ink painting techniques. For many years, Chinese art critics viewed Huang as one of the last great literati painters of a rapidly disappearing era. However, Huang understood the changing times. He demonstrated an awareness of Western art movements, especially the principles of Impressionism, in his mid-career paintings. Huang increasingly embraced abstraction and loose brushstrokes as he aged. It created an unprecedented link between traditional Chinese ink painting and Modernism.

Huang Binhong, watercolor and ink on paper landscape painting. Image from DuMouchelles.
Huang Binhong, watercolor and ink on paper landscape painting. Image from DuMouchelles.

The upcoming DuMouchelles auction will feature a landscape painting by Huang Binhong that demonstrates his core painting techniques. The available watercolor and ink on paper piece depicts a mountain range receding into mist. Huang rendered the tree-covered mountains with thick, heavy lines. A large tree, a clump of houses, and a bridge appear in the foreground. The painting bears two lines of script and a red seal in the upper right corner. It has a presale estimate of USD 5,000 to $10,000. 

As Huang’s career advanced, his painting style became progressively heavier. He started using thick layers of ink to capture the ambiance of rain in the night. Bright colors and loose brushstrokes entered Huang’s artwork after he moved to Beijing. Despite this cautious embrace of Western styles, Huang was thoroughly committed to preserving Chinese history and culture through his work. He returned to ancient and familiar subjects frequently throughout his career. In so doing, Huang helped preserve parts of the past during the rapidly changing 20th century.

Huang Binhong, Studio Amid Majestic Mountains, 1947. Image from Sotheby’s.
Huang Binhong, Studio Amid Majestic Mountains, 1947. Image from Sotheby’s.

Huang died in 1955 at 90 years old. Despite receiving the title “Outstanding Painter of the Chinese People” in his later life, Huang only enjoyed one solo retrospective. Today, Huang is especially popular among collectors for his steady commitment to ancient techniques. The blend of tradition and Modernism in Huang’s paintings adds to their cultural and historical significance. 

Prices for Huang Binhong paintings have steadily climbed in recent years as his art returns to popularity. Sotheby’s set a new Huang Binhong auction record in 2018 with the sale of Studio Amid Majestic Mountains. This 1947 piece reached HKD 32,200,500 (USD 4,132,300). Paintings from Huang’s later career tend to achieve the highest prices due to their distinctly heavy style. Huang’s earlier and lighter paintings typically sell for between USD 20,000 and $130,000. 

Huang Binhong’s watercolor and ink painting will come to auction with DuMouchelles on September 10th, 2021. The sale starts at 11:00 AM EDT. Visit DuMouchelles for more information, and browse the full catalog on Invaluable

Looking for more artist spotlights? Check out Auction Daily’s profile of contemporary Mexican painter Jazzamoart.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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