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    Sale 2703

    Asian Contemporary Art and Chinese 20th Century Art (Evening Sale)

    24 May 2009, Hong Kong

  • Lot 527

    LIN FENGMIAN

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    LIN FENGMIAN
    (1900-1991)
    Still Life
    signed in Chinese (lower right)
    ink and colour on paper
    68 x 68 cm. (26 3/4 x 26 3/4 in.)
    Painted in 1952
    one seal of the artist


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    Still life paintings as one of the most important categories of Western paintings mainly depict static, lifeless objects as the subject matter for study and manifestation. From a historical point of view, the earliest still-life drawing can be traced back to ancient Egypt and the Roman period, but at that time it mainly serve as a foil in paintings. It was not until the sixteenth century that still-life painting emerged as an independent style of western paintings, often with various types of religious connotations, such as the transience of life and the passage of time, symbolized by the hourglass, candle, etc. The French painter Chardin brought still life paintings to the summit of development in the eighteenth century. The subject matter was then expanded to simple, daily life objects such as kitchen utensils and food, until the post-impressionist painter Cèzanne created in his still life paintings, a sense of architectural orderliness which breaks through the illusive play of light and colors by Impressionist painters, and directed a shift of focus to the solid structure and form. It was only then that still life paintings became an independent school to take its place alongside with Cubism and Expressionism in the pantheon of modern Western art schools. Lin Fengmian, standing in the pioneering front of modernizing Chinese painting in the turn of the twentieth century, created his own still lives, by exploiting the spatial structures of both Chinese and Western paintings, making a successful attempt in synthesizing the aesthetic ideologies of the Chinese with those in the West.

    By the end of 1951, Lin departed from his teaching career in response to the stifling political climate. The retreat enabled him to devote all his time to pursue his own artistic style, and most of his works were created in this period. At a time when artists in China were subject to political censorship and severe oppression, Lin was the first who ventured to study Cubist theories in the 50's. Spectators nowadays are advised to understand Lin within the temporal frame of modern Chinese history, in order to better understand how precious this is - Still Life (Lot 527) made in 1952. At that time, Lin often told his student Pan, "Although Cubism was pioneered by Picasso and Braque, it is actually a formal continuity of 'Cezanneism:Tthe aesthetic standard of Cubist paintings is found on geometry." Still-life paintings became a media for his experimental innovation, with the aims to achieve geometrical orderliness, to express the beauty in complex contrast, and to sustain a store of imagination and expectations for both history and modernity.

    The compact structure in the composition of this Still Life, exemplifies Lin's stylized simplification and combination of pictorial elements to the extent the painting's surface allows. Lin finds the common structural patterns in geometric shapes, breaks them and rearranged and reorganized into the order in his own composition, where dismembered components are pulled closer to each other with the perceived distance shortened by reducing the negative space, and as a result, tightly knitted into an indissoluble unit adamantly glued with interlocking cohesion. In Still Life, the round table, round plate, fruit knife forms recurring circles, flowers and vase disrupting the symmetry, and the table cloth interweaving with the background to forms squares or rectangles, at last turning into a parade of contrasts between squares and circles, straight and curve lines. The multi-layers of squares inside circles and vice versa allude to the spatial arrangement in Chinese calligraphy and seal art. The way the still life unfolds itself layer by layer, while maintaining balance and symmetry with the alternate use of positive and negative spaces, creates a horizontal dynamics across the painting's surface, marking the function of Cubism - restructuring the reality. Lin's Still Life is also culture-informed with hidden reference to the origin of Chinese philosophies such as 'Yin-Yang' (negative and positive), 'He' (harmony), and gives a calming effect to the mind. Apart from integrating the traits of Western modernism and traditional Chinese art at the inner core, Lin also reformed on the outer surface with the vocabulary of structuralism, by abandoning the convention adopted by Chinese literati painters since the Yuan Dynasty - the use of poetic inscriptions on the side of the painting's surface as a convenient treatment to the background to balance the composition with a layering effect. Lin opts to achieve the same ends with the means of Cubism - structural splintering, and thereby shattering the stereotype of traditional Chinese ink painting in a revolutionary breakthrough. As Lin's student Wu Guanzhong observed, "Lin's paintings evoke deep associations, like lyric poems. They don't need poetic inscriptions because the painting itself is the poem".

    The structural composition of Still Life is shaped by the basic elements of lines, tones, and colours, distinguishing itself as a work by Lin with the lucidity of form, contrasting light and shade, and intense colour rarely seen in traditional Chinese paintings. In 1923, Lin confirmed the significance of lines in ancient Chinese paintings in the period of Wei-Jin Dynasties and Tang Dynasty, as the 'lines of beauty and life', which reflect 'the characters of the painter and his time', and 'the inner motion of static objects'. And yet, Lin does not only apply the lines in traditional Chinese art, but also adopt the attitude of ancient Chinese painters, to 'let the Nature teach', so that each and every line, in saturation of ink and clarity of brushstroke, is moist and neat, but nevertheless charged with the speed, force and momentum of brushwork, which registers the painter's passion for life and form. The toning gradient and colour scheme of Still Life realizes the simultaneity of the fresh, moist quality in traditional Western watercolour and the heavy layer colouring of Chinese conceptual paintings. Mastering the penetrability of water on rice paper, Lin employs ink, watercolour and gouache alternately and cross-overly, to overlap or cancel existing paint layers, thereby creating an illusive but solid sense of three-dimensional space. As he described his work in a seminar in 1962, 'I absorb a lot of ingredients from watercolour paintings. I really hope to seek more concrete expression for abstract concepts. Traditional Chinese painters tend to leave a large part of the image bare of paint, leaving behind a meaningful 'void', but I'd rather paint the sky and the water. If I find a space too empty, too transparent, I will opaque it with a layer of paint. It all depends on the effect I want. I am free to over-paint one colour with another, with no restrains.'

    The subdued base tone of Still Life, in a background of dull coffee brown, allows the still-live portrait to stand out in the foreground. The multilayered treatment contributes to the making of the mysterious ambiance in the painting. The patches of gouache varying in degree of thickness emphasize on the penetrating effect of light on colour. In comparison with still life paintings in the same period, in which a penchant for earthy tones can hardly be missed, a stark conflicting contrast between the bright red and the inky black green plays out on the layered colouring in Lin's Still Life, creating visual harmony and infusing the thrills of life into the still life in portrait.

    The twentieth century is a time of breakthrough for western art in formal language. Under the impact of cultural exchanges between East and West, Lin strived for decades in the synthesis of the traits in Chinese and Western arts. His unique style was shaped in an interwoven play of Chinese ink and Western watercolour, in a serious attempt to ground poetic expression for abstract concepts on the basis of rational orderliness through structural composition. Setting up a milestone with his artistic innovations, Lin Fengmian is an irreplaceable figure in the modernization of Chinese painting. As what he said at the end of the twentieth century, one needs to have 'the heart of a doctor or a saint' and 'the courageous perseverance to keep going in a battle' in order to explore art in China, Lin himself, had made his way to the top with this unyielding zeal.

    Provenance

    Private Collection, Asia


    Saleroom Notice

    Please kindly note that this lot has the below exhibition and literature records:

    EXHIBITION
    Tokyo, Japan, National Museum of Modern Art, Cubism in Asia: unbound dialogues, 2005.
    Korea, National Museum of Art, Deoksugung (Annex of National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea), Cubism in Asia: unbound dialogues, 2005.
    Singapore, Singapore Art Museum, Cubism in Asia: unbound dialogues, 2006.
    Beijing, China, Abstract China 2007, Beijing, China, 2007.
    Beijing, China, Lin & Keng Gallery, Grand Opening Exhibition, 2007.

    LITERATURE
    Asia Pacific Art Promotions Ltd., Lin Fengmian: Leader of Chinese Modernism Art, Taipei, Taiwan, 1999 (illustrated, p. 165).
    National Museum of Modern Art, Cubism in Asia : unbound dialogues, exh. cat., Tokyo, Japan, 2005 (illustrated, p. 39).
    Lin & Keng Gallery Inc., Lin & Keng Cultural Subjectivity of Oriental Aesthetics, Taipei, Taiwan, 2007 (illustrated, p. 49).


    Literature

    Lin & Keng Gallery Inc., Lin & Keng Art, Taipei, Taiwan, 1998 (illustrated, p. 43).
    Asia Pacific Art Promotions Ltd., Lin Fengmian: Leader of Chinese Modernism Art, Taipei, Taiwan, 1999 (illustrated, p. 165).
    National Museum of Modern Art, Cubism in Asia: unbound dialogues, exh. cat., Tokyo, Japan, 2005 (illustrated, p. 39).
    Lin & Keng Gallery Inc., Lin & Keng Cultural Subjectivity of Oriental Aesthetics, Taipei, Taiwan, 2007 (illustrated, p. 49).


    Exhibited

    Tokyo, Japan, National Museum of Modern Art, Cubism in Asia: unbound dialogues, 2005.
    Korea, National Museum of Art, Deoksugung (Annex of National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea), Cubism in Asia: unbound dialogues, 2005.
    Singapore, Singapore Art Museum, Cubism in Asia: unbound dialogues, Beijing, China, Abstract China 2007, Beijing, China, 2007.
    Beijing, China, Lin & Keng Gallery, Grand Opening Exhibition, 2007.