An Important Collection of a British Sea Captain Family

(Chinese, 1900-1991)
Fishing Harvest
signed in Chinese (lower left)
oil on canvas
73 x 92.5 cm. (28 11/16 x 36 3/8 in.)
Acquired directly from the artist by the parents of present owner in Shanghai, 1965

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Lot Essay

In 1965, with his ship, the Sea Coral, docked in Shanghai, Captain Parr visited the only bar in town open to foreigners at the time, the Seamen's Club on the Bund. He sat at what was then the world's longest bar and chatted with the club's only other patron that night, a chargé d'affaires from the British Consulate. The conversation turned to the Chinese painter Lin Fengmian, who was living in Shanghai at the time. Through an introduction by the chargé d'affaires, the captain was later able to meet Lin at his apartment. He saw hundreds of works Lin pulled from under his bed. On the wall were two small Peking opera oil paintings and a large oil in a boxwood frame depicting a fishing harvest. That night, along with the three paintings on the wall, the captain also acquired 17 of the artist's ink-brush works. By the time he returned to Shanghai a few months later, the apartment had been destroyed and Lin was in prison.
Fishing Harvest (Lot 24) by Lin Fengmian is offered in the Evening Sale, with six ink-brush pieces by the same artist included in the Day Sale. All come from the rare private collection of Captain Parr, who recalls from his visit that Lin nominated Fishing Harvest, which remains in its original boxwood frame, as his favourite piece. Only about 10 oil paintings by Lin on the subject of fishing harvests are known to have survived. The last time Christie's offered one at auction one was more than a decade ago.
Lin's autobiography, drafted in 1971 while he was imprisoned, says that in 1963 a Belgian man named 'Rosborough' introduced two men named 'Spenki' and 'Mense' from the British Consulate in Shanghai to buy paintings from him (these names have been phonetically transcribed from the Chinese in the autobiography). According to Zheng Zhong's Biography of Lin Fengmian, the two consular officers were in frequent contact with Lin.
During the Cultural Revolution, Lin had to 'lay out a decade's worth of artworks outside the house', where they were torn to pieces and 'burned in the furnace used in winter to keep warm'. In 1992, Wu Guanzhong wrote in the preface of The Paintings of Lin Fengmian: 'During the Cultural Revolution, Lin Fengmian was arrested and imprisoned for four and half years. Most of his artworks were soaked in the water basin or bathtub and flushed away as pulp. As for oil paintings, after the siege of Hangzhou, they were used as tarpaulins by the Japanese army.' Captain Parr was fortunate to have acquired these artworks before the Cultural Revolution.
With the emergence of the May Fourth New Culture Movement from about 1915, Chinese traditional painting experienced a revival, with the fusion of Chinese and Western painting becoming a distinct trend. In 1921, Lin, who had expressed a fascination with naturalism, was accepted by the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was under the tutelage of Fernand Cormon, known for his academic painting style. But before that Lin briefly studied at the ?cole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, where on his first day Principal Yencesse said to him: 'You are Chinese, and do you know how precious Chinese art is, and how outstanding your tradition is? Go! Venture outside the gates of the school and go to oriental museums, porcelain museums; go and explore those rich treasures!' After gaining in-depth experience and understanding of the development of modern art in the West, Lin began focusing on the integration and development of Chinese and Eastern aesthetics, and established a unique new direction for painting.
In 1951 Lin was living in Shanghai, where he frequently visited theatres and created paintings inspired by performances. Therefore, he attempted to break down the movements and reconstruct them, depicting people in motion rather than just as still portraits giving a fuller, more detailed explanation of the subject.
Fishing Harvest was painted after Lin relocated to Shanghai, and is a vivid rendition of a lively harbour scene. With the boats scattered and the poles leaning, a sense of solitude is cut through by the sharp lines. With the image dissected by the precise lines, geometric components of two-dimensionality are formed, and compilations of the geometric shapes then produce a sense of structure that gives the painting architectural and powerful qualities.
Wu Guanzhong said Lin's art 'utilises the full capacity, with no space gone wasted'. In reference to the development of Chinese paintings leading to the notion of the conscious empty void with ideas of 'retraction' and 'elimination' established by the artist Bada Shanren, Lin assertively attempted to find comprehensive and orderly possibilities for Chinese paintings through acts of 'release' and 'accumulation'. On his customary rectangular canvas, he focused on the painting's overall structure. Therefore, different subjects, including the female figure, flowers, landscapes, or fruits, were all transformed into ensembles composed of lines and planes, with some full of well-rounded polish and others scattered with vivacious lines. The strong contrasts of black and white ink-like strokes on white paper and the saturated colours of yellow, blue and red created a brand new outlook for the development of Chinese paintings, which in the Qing and Ming dynasties were more focused on the brush and ink rather than study colours. Fishing Harvest is an exceptional example of the pursuit of a new oriental style after the merging of colours and compositions between the East and the West.

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