(ZHU YUANZHI, 1906-1963)
Old Broadway in Winter
signed 'Yun Gee' in Pinyin (lower right)
oil on canvas
121 x 101 cm. (48 x 40 in.)
Painted circa 1930-1940
Christie's Hong Kong, 28 April 2002, Lot 148
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York Times, Old Broadway in Winter, New York, USA, 1945. (illustrated)
New York, USA, Lilienfeld Galleries, Paintings by Yun Gee, 5-21 April, 1945.
New Jersey, USA, The Jersey City Museum, Bergen Branch Library, An Exhibition of the Work of Yun Gee, 5-26 January, 1948.

Lot Essay

Throughout his career, Yun Gee's artistic creations took several transformations and were enlightened by multiple artistic currents. He was first influenced by Cubism, but later moved towards co-colorism, thee French figurative movement and Hyperrrealism. He had the ability to quickly absorb the most avant-garde style of the time while also being able to extract the essence of it, thus producing an original artistic form that could still express his own personal style. His early works that are offered in this autumn auction, all demonstrate how at a very young age, he already had a superior artistic talent and sensitivity. The works featured also cover Yun Gee's different artistic ideals, views and expressions reflecting his three distinct creative periods in San Francisco, Paris and New York, systematically describing the painter's evolution in his early artistic years.

In 1921, at the age of 15, Yun Gee left China for San Francisco to be reunited with his father. Soon after, he entered the California School of Arts and through an introduction by painters such as Otis Oldfield, he was exposed to the latest development of modern art in Europe. At the same time he was interacting with important writers and artists of the San Francisco modern art scene, greatly broadening his artistic horizon. During this period, Yun Gee's works manifested a deep interest in color exploration by boldly using heavy and bright oil colors to depict various geometric patterns and arc color blotches. These paintings quite evidently presented the impact of Cubism and co-colorism. Park Bench II (Lot 555) painted in 1927 is a representative piece of the San Francisco years. Looking at the use of color and graphics, Yun Gee already skillfully adopted the artistic trend of that time yet transformed, refined and created works with his own personal style. The work turns figurative objects, such as the park's natural elements and people at leisure, into geometric shapes and color blotches that crisscross with arcs, and separately coats various "blocks of surface" with green, red and light yellow colors, thus expressing a sense of rhythmic movement and speed through strong contrasting colors. Structural elements and composition's fragmentation are imbued with vivid color blotches, combining color and structure into one artistic device, which is much more complicated and rich in expressive dimensions than Cubist paintings appear to be.

Compared with co-colorist painters at that time, such as Francis Picabia (1879 ~ 1953) or Robert Delaunay (1885 ~ 1941), Yun Gee's color blotches and geometric, rhythmic movements always remain focused on the contours of the figurative objects eventually leaving each element well defined. Objects continuously shift between abstract and figurative instead of completely adhering to Cubism by breaking up objects until unintelligible and absolute formalism by breaking up objects into multiple angled block surfaces, which indicates that while achieving a mastery of the Western artistic models, Yun Gee was also able to maintain his unique views on the structure of his pictures and dedicated himself to combining two artistic elements, such as color and structure, into one. On the one hand, color and geometric block surfaces can express a musical sense of movements while on the other hand, they can take control of the composition, giving expression to the intertwined spatial relationship and sense of layers between object, thus giving the work a steady structure of relative peace, leisure and rhythm.

In 1927, through an introduction of Prince and Princess Muhart of France, Yun Gee went on a journey to Paris to further expand his artistic career and set up "the goal of fusing the oriental and Western cultures." During this period in Paris, Yun Gee continued to actively explore the expression methods of various artistic schools which provoked his style and composition to change. His artistic language shifted from mainly color and rhythms to well-defined lines, structure and to the formulation of an artistic ideal focused on lyricism. By infiltrating works with his personal feelings and cultural roots, the colors and picture compositions all began to support the needs of his new ideals. Yun Gee no longer analyzed objects with a spectrum and scientific thinking, but focused on a skillful poetic expression that reflected his personal spirituality and his deep pondering of life; thus flexibly embodying an oriental view of the world that emphasized the spiritual correlation of humans and nature as well as emotions to the existence of the universe.

By continuing his color exploration of the San Francisco years and by seeking new artistic ideals and philosophical connotations during the Paris period, when Yun Gee moved to New York in 1930, he had perfected his works achieving a unique personal style, and entered a totally new spectacular period, further laying the foundation for the main theme of future works. During his time in New York, Yun Gee focused on painting pictures of city views and modern society, strongly highlighting contemporary social issues and fast-paced life. Industrial wheel in New York completed in 1932 is a well-known work from this period and this evening sale's Old Broadway in Winter (Lot 556) is a work that belongs to that same series.

Aboard for New York
Wine makes one
wise, rolling as
a wheel, rocking
from left to right, never
drifting, neither ending; as
clever as Solomon's hand
When one look
where the skyline strips
along, at very
top of the
Empire State,
it stirs awhile
leaving white
marks, like
one wanders too
the top
strolls but
the foot is still
Then I was on
a ship .It
moved, too,
water with
streaks, way
astray, going
hundreds of miles
to docks, sometimes
light, other times
dark. One feels
the ship waving
from bottom to
top, rocking
on a round
golden sea
Soon still. We
return see
the Empire State
again, still
moving. Only
I wear a longer beard.

Old Broadway in Winter captures, in a realistic and figurative style the skyscrapers and streets of Broadway in the 1930s. Each element of the painting is well defined and detailed and as a whole the composition is distinguished by a quick modern pace, making contemporary society the focus of his work. By emphasizing and depicting the modern industrial society, Yun Gee moves beyond the confines of modern scenery and conceptual cosmological cosmos, subjects to which most Chinese artists are devoted to. As a result the painter makes a significant connotation, highlighting the abundance and creative possibilities of oriental art in delineating the cultural spirit of modern times.

In that period, many people still stereotyped Chinese art and would ask Yun Gee: "Why don't you paint mountains, waters, flowers and birds just like everyone else?" Yun Gee believed that the motivating force for the development of art came from the observation of the contemporary spirit. Since he "was living in a modern industrial society instead of meditating about nature on a mountaintop," his art must also reflect the gist and spirit of his time.

Old Broadway in Winter is still rich and varied in its colors, but after Yun Gee's transformation during the years in Paris, they have assumed a somber feeling. Two large shadows in the foreground create a melancholic atmosphere which is probably a tortured reflection of being a painter at that time. However the contrast of light and darkness of the bright sunlight in the background and the shadows of the buildings and windows in the foreground give the composition a sense of rhythm and layers which guides the viewer's eye all the way to the Empire State Building and bright skyline. The originality in the planning of the composition and colors gives the entire work a dramatic tension and vibrant feel.

It is important to note that Yun Gee's realistic depiction of the 1930s also embodies a lyrical nature. The Empire State Building and several other skyscrapers in the distance, through skillful brushstrokes, display a warm feeling, giving suddenly life to the whole city, in stark contrast to the traditional cool and mechanical perception of these industrial icons and modernization scenes.

Although Yun Gee predominantly adopted co-colorism techniques during his San Francisco period, he brings his earlier style to this painting. The sky is divided into arc shaped color blotches and contrasting colors are employed to express a rhythmic movement of changes in winds and clouds. The spatial design in the foreground is reminiscent of a theatrical stage, as if the buildings on the left and right sides are the frame that guides the viewer's eye to the large and bright spaces in the foreground drawing the attention towards the human stories that are being performed on stage. The design of this composition seems to link to the painter's deep interest in New York's dancing and drama performances at the time. The title Old Broadway in Winter is also reminiscent of lively memory of singing and dancing to exalt the good times. Such a work that expresses joy and hope is indeed an extraordinary painting among Yun Gee's collection of works.

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