"The iconic nature of both subjects, Chinese and European, old master and new, are the kind of provocative things that Zhang Hongtu enjoys poking with a stick to make sure they are still alive. For him, painting is not an answer, but rather a question - one that challenges our normal response to viewing painting. It questions the definitions of Chinese and Western painting and blurs the boundaries between old and new, high and low."
- Paul Laster
Ni Zan - Monet No. 5 (Lot 512) was painted in 2005. Born in 1301, Ni Zan is considered to be one of the four "Late Yuan" masters. During the fall of the Yuan he traveled around southern China and spent his time painting. During his lifetime, his work was highly valued and it itself was enough to pay for the hospitality provided by his friends as he traveled. He returned to his hometown in 1371 after the establishment of the Ming Dynasty. Ni Zan used his art as a medium of expression. His landscapes after 1345 include elements of ink-monochrome painting of widely separated riverbanks rendered in sketch brushwork and foreground trees silhouetted against the expanse of water. These sparse landscapes never represent people and defy many traditional concepts of Chinese painting. Many of his works hardly represent the natural settings they were intended to depict. In 1364, he said "I use bamboo painting to write out the exhilaration in my breast, that is all. Why should I worry whether it shows likeness or not?"
In Ni Zan - Monet No. 5 Zhang Hongtu took an image of one of Ni Zan's paintings and transformed the traditional Chinese masterpiece, using Monet's brushstroke techniques to create a most vivid French Impressionist style, while keeping the traditional composition and scenery of Ni Zan's painting. Along the top of this painting, Zhang added calligraphy inscriptions of red oil paint and even replicated the traditional seals of the Emperors, creating a fascinating balance between the impressionist style and the traditional Chinese imagery and calligraphy. Through Zhang Hongtu's "transcription", this work by Ni Zan took on a renewed liveliness.