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(Chinese, 1900-1991)
signed in Chinese (lower left)
ink and colour on paper
69 x 70.5 cm. (27 1/8 x 27 3/4 in.)
Painted circa the 1960s
one seal of the artist
Formerly the Property from Ms. Xi Suhua, mother of Feng Yeh
Private Collection, Asia

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Felix Yip

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Lot Essay

Art, drawing breath from ethnicity and culture, mirrors the unique worldview, value system and philosophy from which it is spawned and, on that account, symbolizes the spirit of its ethnic origin and the power of cultural cohesion. In the early twentieth century, with the cultural exchange between the East and West, China confronted waves of conflicts, revolutions, anguish and innovations. Inspired by Western modernism, artists like Lin Fengmian had, with his impartial eye, rethought and reviewed the nature and spirit of Western and Chinese art, and further reconstructed the merits of his native traditional artistic system. It was in his architect that the cultural traits of the East and the West became more integrated, and the different artistic languages between traditions and modernity to converge. Crossing the geographic and historical boundaries, Lin Fengmian is indisputably recognized as an important precursor in the history of Chinese art. Christies' is proud to present a collection of Lin's landscape, portraiture and still-life, in hopes of unveiling this eminent artist's distinct creativity, exceptional achievement, and a legacy he leaves behind for the generations to come.
In around late 1940s Lin started painting still-life, a genre he since then worked on incessantly. Hydrangea (Lot 1107) demonstrates another breakthrough of Lin to redefine still-life drawing. The Hydrangea is highlighted against an ink-black background-a break from the "empty space" technique favored by Chinese traditional literati paintings. Instead, the idea of "replacing white with black" is put to use here. Depicting Hydrangea against the black backdrop brightens up the subject matters and disassociates the viewer's percept ion about the actual space. Thereby i t produces an unfathomable aura in the picture. The simplified globular shape of the Hydrangea accentuates the plumpness of the bouquet, echoing the round-shape vase. Opaque pigments are layered to portray the thriving, varicolored petals, but their brilliance is shrewdly muted by the blackish green leaves, the irradiating vase and the subdued background. Such well-rounded arrangement of colors reveals the artist's rigorous assessment on composition and color, albeit the simple subject matter in Hydrangea.
Lin became a Beijing opera buff since 1951 when he moved to Shanghai. In the course of his exploration of the genre, he started applying the principles of cubism in his artistic representation of Chinese opera. He explained, in a letter to his student Pan Qiliu, that "in the classic [Chinese] opera, the contradiction between time and space seems not a paradox at all. It is easily resolved, like the way Picasso flattens his subjects on the canvasK I do not intend reproduce the volume of objects and men, but create a sense of continuity as a whole." Opera Series-Lotus Lantern (Lot 1108) features a particular scene in Lotus Lantern, a famous Chinese folklore, where the goddess of Mount Hua defeated God Erlang with her divine power. With a geometric structuring Lin simplifies the physical shapes of his figures. The cold and warm color tones, together with the position of lines, dissect the frame into a proportion that fits perfectly on a square canvas, indicating the artist's punctilious consideration on pictorial composition. In the 1950s, Lin's studio had but one yellow light bulb, and as he worked all the time through midnight, the technique of backlighting is naturally used around the underlit environment. Primarily subdued in colors, Opera Series-Lotus Lantern manifests a marked contrast between darkness and brightness as the artist, availing of the variations of brushstrokes and the texture of translucent pigments, bestows agility and flimsiness on the waving white gauze of the goddess. It is common for Lin, in portraying opera characters, to flatten the space so as to accentuate the continuous actions in drama, but here the multiple layers of the painting are created by means of lineal segregation and overlaps that express human actions, hence an eerie theatrical effect swamped with subtlety.
Ink viscousity is often used in traditional landscape paintings to visualize the depth of field: the foreground is as a rule painted with darker ink, the middle ground with lighter ink, and the background the lightest; the background with mimalist ink visually implies a limitless expasion beyond the canvas. While Lin Fengmian renders Fishing Birds (Lot 1109) in ink-wash, he raises the highest viscousity in the middle ground, and thus gives forms to the geese by some smoothly rotund shapes of dark silhouette that stands out distinctly in contrast to the distant view. The ink-wash composition, fused with Western modernist theory, reveals the relationship between planes instead of three-dimensional spaces. The canvas is divided into three segments-the reeds in the foreground, the rocks and geese in the middle ground, and finally the distant landscape. Amidst this structure, the slender leaves of the reeds are depicted candidly, wherein the interstices are of variations under layers of dispersing thin ink; the geese, simple in shape and solid in color, is juxtaposed by the rocks tinted by sweeping, pointy strokes, making manifest their difference in texture as in their tone; the mound and reeds in the background are sparsely and thinly brushed, and the river and sky implied by the empty spaces point to an unknown space in an indefinite distance. Fishing Birds, therefore, is a breach of the stagnant rule of spatial construction in traditional landscapes, as the artist introduces differing forms of line and figuration into the work and so deconstructs, as well as recomposes, such elements as points, lines and planes central to modern art theories. It also demonstrates the artist's consummate handling of ink viscousity and his dexterity in collocating and contrasting dry and wet, thick and thin ink, which describes the depth of the picture. Fishing Birds is, in sum, a perfect example of the complementary nature of Chinese and Western art theories and elements of expression. Since 1950s, the Cubist influence from Georges Braque has been ubiquitous in Lin's still-life. In Lin's Still Life (Lot 1110), white lines are applied to contour the objects, and are also entwined to shape the patterns over the tableware, table cloth, the windowsill and almost all over the canvas. In this sense, he creates a visual illusion as if lights were unceasingly reflected and refracted in this depicted space. A multi-perspective is adopted to emphasize the compositional relationship between squares and circles, resulting in the table's erroneous obliquity. The objects, whether heavily or lightly shaded with white outlines, seem to glitter under various light sources. While Lin defies the common practice of following the physical law of illumination and renders every object in discrete with his multi-perspective principle. He integrates them nonetheless in a flat space, and challenges our stereotypical perception towards still-life.

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