Christie’s Presents the Masters of Contemporary Chinese Ink Painting

Shreeya Maskey
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The upcoming Fine Chinese Modern and Contemporary Ink Paintings auction, hosted by Christie’s, features several influential modern and contemporary Chinese artists. Held on May 27th, 2021 beginning at 10:00 PM EDT, the sale will include works from Fu Baoshi, Zhang Daqian, Wu Guanzhong, and Li Keran, among others.

FU BAOSHI (1904 - 1965), Chess Playing, 1943. Image from Christie’s.
FU BAOSHI (1904 – 1965), Chess Playing, 1943. Image from Christie’s.

Fu Baoshi (1904 – 1965)

Leading the New Chinese Painting Movement, Fu Baoshi aided the rise of ink painting. The artist frequently blended foreign styles and expressive techniques to create his paintings with spontaneous brushstrokes. Fu experimented by throwing ink or paint at a canvas. Occasionally compared to the works of ancient masters, Fu’s ink paintings invite the viewer to observe their emotional and cultural meaning.

The upcoming sale presents an ink and color piece from Fu Baoshi (HKD 40,000,000 – $50,000,000 / USD 5,150,000 –  $6,440,000). In the painting, Fu renders trees with a combination of dry and wet ink brushstrokes. Thin outlines demonstrate the texture of the branches. The ink painting also shows two chess players and an observant monk.

ZHANG DAQIAN (1899 - 1983), Lotus in the Wind, 1961. Image from Christie’s.
ZHANG DAQIAN (1899 – 1983), Lotus in the Wind, 1961. Image from Christie’s.

Zhang Daqian (1899 – 1983) 

Zhang Daqian mastered many artistic styles but always returned to splashed-ink techniques. He developed the style rather late in his career. Zhang was long recognized as a prolific painter. He studied and made replicas of traditional paintings in an attempt to learn the techniques of Chinese masters.

When the artist was struggling with cataracts and diminished eyesight, he began employing broad splashes of paint to emulate landscapes in Chinese art. A strong example of this technique can be found in Zhang’s Lotus in the Wind, presented in the upcoming auction (HKD 3,800,000 – $4,800,000 / USD 489,200 – $617,900). The ink painting shows intertwined flowers and leaf clusters. Drawing the eye toward layered colors and ink, the piece conjures elements of a lotus pond.

WU GUANZHONG (1919 - 2010), North Wudang Mountain. Image from Christie’s.
WU GUANZHONG (1919 – 2010), North Wudang Mountain. Image from Christie’s.

Wu Guanzhong (1919 – 2010)

Wu Guanzhong described himself as “a snake swallowing an elephant.” The snake represents the Chinese artist in him, and the elephant symbolizes the influence of Western art. Wu’s style combined traditional subjects with the Western painting techniques that dominated 20th-century Chinese art. “Wu was an artist of feeling rather than fact,” says Eric Chang, the International Director of Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art at Christie’s Hong Kong. “His paintings capture an experience more than a sight. They’re the sort of images you think you can enter.”

Highlighted in the sale is a painting from Wu titled The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River (HKD 6,000,000 – $8,000,000 / USD 772,400 – $1,030,000). Painted with ink on paper, Wu depicts a narrow scene of the Yangtze River with tall cliffs on either side. Inspired by abstraction, his work explores the interplay between thin outlines and diluted ink washes.

LI KERAN (1907 - 1989). A Million Strong Across the Yangtze, 1964. Image from Christie’s.
LI KERAN (1907 – 1989). A Million Strong Across the Yangtze, 1964. Image from Christie’s.

Li Keran (1907 – 1989)

Like many artists in the 1930s, Li Keran felt drawn to figure painting using ink and wash. Water buffalo and cowboys were a subject he often returned to in his paintings. Describing the nature of his artworks, Li said, “Delve into tradition with the utmost dedication and then break away from it with the utmost courage.”

Among the key lots in this auction is Li Keran’s color and ink painting on paper (HKD 25,000,000 – $30,000,000 / USD 3,218,200 – $3,862,000). The composition reflects the artist’s mastery over the traditional medium. The painting shows an ink-washed sky contrasting orange flags and brown ships. In the background, the viewer can observe Nanjing through the mist.

Christie’s upcoming Fine Chinese Modern and Contemporary Ink Paintings sale, held in Hong Kong, will feature each of these artists. The live auction will start at 10:00 PM EDT on May 27th, 2021. Visit Christie’s website for more information. 

Want to learn more about Chinese works of art? Read Auction Daily’s recent coverage of Chinese ritual bronzes.

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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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