Classy fare in cool market
The upcoming China Guardian Auctions’ sales are expected to witness renewed interest in the country’s cultural legacies, especially in art. Lin Qi reports.
The art market in China has been cooling over the past three years, generating fewer records and a less competitive air in the salesroom.
Auction houses have, however, tried to enthuse bidders by offering fewer but better quality pieces with moderate presale estimates. As a result, artworks that boast a sound source of origin and which have not appeared on an open market for years are being bought.
The lots to be sold at China Guardian Auctions’ major fall sales, to be held from Saturday to Nov 16 in Beijing, include classic Chinese art and fine quality paintings by modern masters, including Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) and Fu Baoshi (1904-65). The two sections are now drawing a lot of market attention after outperforming other categories in the first half of the year.
A letter to his friend by Song Dynasty (960-1279) poet and calligrapher Zeng Yu (1073-1135) called Guofang Tie will go under the hammer at Guardian’s money-grossing, star-studded Grand View evening sales.
Zeng wrote the letter to express his regret at being unable to receive the visiting friend because of fatigue. The 60 characters in the letter show Zeng’s solid technique while handling caoshu, or the running script, in his own carefree style.
The letter has been passed through several private collections over nine centuries, including that of famed connoisseur Zhang Congyu (1914-63).
Ancient calligraphic pieces also hogged much of the limelight in salesrooms earlier this year. Then, Guardian auctioned Jushi Tie (Letter on happenings) by politician and scholar Zeng Gong, who was the elder brother of Zeng Yu’s father, for 207 million yuan ($31.7 million) in May.
The buyer was Chinese media mogul Wang Zhongjun who is an avid collector of Chinese contemporary art.
At the same sale, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) calligrapher Song Ke’s writing album, also in the running script, fetched 92 million yuan.
Pieces from authoritative art catalogs will also appear in the upcoming Guardian sales, including a color painting of a Chinese peony, by an unidentified Song Dynasty painter. It is also mentioned in Shiqu Baoji, the imperial catalog that recorded the best of the Qing emperors’ collection of paintings and calligraphic works.
Separately, 10 of the artworks to be auctioned are mentioned in The Catalog of Ancient Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy. They include a painting and calligraphy album of landscape scenery by Ming Dynasty artist Dong Qichang.
The catalog was compiled in the 1980s based on the appraisal of a noted art committee. Its seven members were appointed by the Ministry of Culture and comprised authorities on classical Chinese culture such as Xie Zhiliu, Qi Gong and Xu Bangda.
Guo Tong, head of Guardian’s Chinese painting and calligraphy department, says buyers these days rely a lot on these two catalogs, especially the latter one.
“The Catalog of Ancient Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy is seen as an important effort to protect cultural legacies after 1949. And it is unlikely that there will be a second one to rival the catalog that comprises the objective opinions of top experts,” she says.
A report on the spring auctions released in late October by Beijing-based Art Market Monitor of Artron shows traditional Chinese paintings by modern artists accounted for nearly 34 percent of the category’s total turnover, making it the season’s top performer. Works by Fu Baoshi and Zhang Daqian contributed to the bulk of the sales.
Fu’s ink piece God of Cloud andGreat Lord ofFate sold for 230 million yuan at a Beijing sale in June.
In the upcoming sales, Guardian will put under the hammer Fu’s popular court lady-themed painting, Beauties, in which the master painter portrays two graceful women in a scholarly room with painted landscapes.
Commenting on the work, Guo says that while most of Fu’s paintings typically look gray and foggy, this painting distinguishes itself with a vivid palette “looking beautiful from every perspective”.
Fu produced the painting in Chongqing in 1945, when many artists like him who survived the Japanese invasion still wanted to paint despite a shortage of material. It is during the period that Fu portrayed these “beauties” in his works.
His daughter Fu Yiyao says the women in the painting not only symbolized nobility and wisdom, but also revealed that “the spring of hope” had not dried out in the painter’s heart.
Another painting set to go under the hammer is Zhang Daqian’s Landscape after Juran that is dominated by green and blue. The work epitomizes his mastery of the shanshui genre, technically and artistically. Through this work, he pays tribute to predecessors such
It is unlikely that there will be a second one to rival the catalog.” Guo Tong, head of Guardian’s Chinese painting and calligraphy department
as Juran, a monk painter from 10th-century China, while giving a modern twist to the work.
Presale estimates for the landscape range from 68 million to 88 million yuan.
Zhang’s color landscape Peach Blossom Spring grossed 227 million yuan, an auction record for the artist, in Hong Kong in April.
A preview of Guardian’s fall sales will start on Tuesday and run through Friday at Beijing International-Hotel.
Clockwise from top: FlowerandBird by Zhu Da, Zhang Daqian’s LandscapeafterJuran, Fu Baoshi’s Beauties and Flower by an anonymous artist of the Song Dynasty are among the lots to be sold at the upcoming China Guardian Auctions’ major fall sales.