The 20th century, for China, was a difficult mix of old and new that played the role of a midwife to a host of changes. Traditional Chinese thought had been challenged as never before by cultural influences introduced from the leading industrial countries of Europe. In art, too, these exceptional historical circumstances led to new creative resources and ideas derived from outside cultural influences, which would open up new possibilities for modern Chinese art. Western classicism was a strong outside influence, to such an extent that as the school of classicism fell into decline in Europe after the 19th century, it was reborn in China and developed into a type of realist style guided by the Eastern cultural influences it encountered there.Political change in China has exerted a profound and continuing influence on the development of its cultural and artistic life. The establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 determined the historical direction of modern China, and the era that followed had decisive significance for the development of its arts. In a series of talks at the Yenan Conference on Art and Literature, Mao Zedong presented the view that "the lives of the people are the sole source of all art and literature," and for the following 40 years, his directions were implemented in a deep and thoroughgoing movement to make art "a part of real life." An organized plan brought artists into close contact with life in factories, rural communes, and the ranks of the military, with the goal that these cultural workers would be re-educated by learning from peasants and factory workers. The themes and subjects of these artists were drawn from real life, as were their images, colors, and compositions, and the painting styles in the mainstream drew heavily from Classical Realism of Europe and the Soviet Union (fig.1). All in all, the concepts in which artistic creation were viewed as intimately linked with daily life would greatly influence the later direction of development in modern Chinese art, bringing it into closer association with the general masses and breaking down traditional notions about the content, themes, and general character of art. After the Cultural Revolution, from 1976 onwards, Chinese realists turned away from political ideology, reacting against years of social and cultural hardship. Instead of glorifying gritty urban or rural daily life, they turned to a beautification of their environment, painting what they wished to see. Scenes never before the subject of artistic portrayals now found their way into paintings, and strong ideological concerns entered the mainstream. Artists whose styles derive from this movement include the spiritual leaders of the social realist painting school of the 1980s, of whom Wang Yidong is a pioneering force. His works are rich, moving depictions of the feel of daily life and they examine with a humanitarian eye the unaffected simplicity and beauty of local scenes. The dignity and warmth of his portrayals return the focus of modern Chinese realist painting to the basic elements of nature and human spheres of activity.Wang's Neo-Realist style frequently portrays China's rural people as the central subject of his paintings, projecting a feel for their genuineness and hardworking spirit. Born in Shandong's Linyi County, Wang gained his feel for the rural life firsthand; his paintings preserve the beautiful, ancient traditions and customs of the villages in the Yi-meng mountain region, one of the regions that gave birth to the late Neolithic Longshan culture of China. Wang spent a considerable period observing the details of the daily lives of the people there and their celebration of traditional festivals; how the girls, for example, typically wear blacks or dark blues for daily chores that might soil their clothes, bringing out the bright red outfits that contrast so sharply with their typical daily garb only for celebration of major events such as marriage or the Chinese New Year's festival. It is precisely this feel for their lives, and the engaging appeal of their deep links to Chinese traditions, that Wang Yidong makes the focus of his paintings. Wang sets strict aesthetic requirements for his handling of composition and his shaping of human figures, based on his feeling that carefully modeled forms and shapes can convey the true feeling and experience of the artist.
This composition entitled 'Sister Spring' (Lot 215) is a character study of a young girl. Her coyly focused stare and tightly locked legs keying viewers in to the shyness and nervousness of a young girl in this period of life. The striking colour semblance between the red of her lips, clothing and of a muter hue in the background create a very strong impactual impression. While her unassertive, almost childlike pose of holding her face in her hands gives and impression of bashfulness or boredom, the gaze she holds with the viewer is very powerful. Such a gaze is further exhorted by the classical painting of a male Chinese warrior that is imposed behind her. Wang's handling of space mixes elements of both realism and modernism; a simple but well-handled division of the compositional space explores the potential for cleavage of space into multiple parts in a realist painting.