(DING YANYONG, Chinese, 1902-1978)
Portrait of a Lady in Yellow Cardigan
signed and dated 'Y.Y.T'ING 26/8.69' (lower right)
oil on canvas
61 x 45.7 cm. (24 x 18 in.)
Painted in 1969
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in late 1960s

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Lot Essay

Throughout his lifetime, T'ing Yin-yung created work that broke away from convention, dissolving boundaries between Eastern and Western art, while at the same time mastering mediums from both artistic traditions-ink and oil paint. His lifelong dedication to pursuing new artistic styles that reflected the spirit of the era and active engagement in art education to nurture young talent makes him a paramount figure in the development of modern art among overseas Chinese in the 20th century. Two exquisite paintings included in this sale, Seated Lady in Green Blouse (Lot 51) and Portrait of a Lady in Yellow Cardigan (Lot 52), are telling of the depth to which T'ing explored the origins of Eastern and Western painting, as well as his enthralling artistic achievement.
T'ing Yin-yung was born at the turn of the 20th century, at a moment when China, after thousands of years of dynastic rule, had just become the Republic of China-a nascent democracy that welcomed exchange with the West, beckoning in wave after wave of new ideas to flush out the old and bringing in new tides of thought. It was under these conditions that literature, art, and education, among other aspects of society, flourished and thrived. Growing up in this particular societal environment seemed to provide an invisible power which silently pulled Ling Fengmian, Xu Beihong, Wu Dayu, Guan Liang, T'ing Yin-yung and other artists from this generation towards success, thus foreshadowing the great development they would bring to Chinese modern art in the years to come. In the 1920s, enabled by funding from the government to study abroad, these artists took off for France or Japan, thirsty to absorb Western modern ideologies; however, the impact of their experience abroad not only led to a mastery in Western avant-garde painting, but conversely also allowed them to reflect on traditional Chinese aesthetics in an expansive and profound way, coaxing them one step further towards finding harmony between East and West and creating a heritage of modern artistic vocabulary within their own culture.
Seated Lady in Green Blouse and Portrait of a Lady in Yellow Cardigan, two rare portraits executed in oil on canvas, come from the collection of Ms. Margaret Yukbing Lim in West Coast of the United States, where they remained in her home for more than 40 years. Before Ms. Lim and her husband immigrated to the US, her teacher T'ing Yin-yung presented her with these two works. In 1968, Ms. Lim attended Chinese University in Hong Kong, fortuitously coinciding with T'ing's move to the island in 1949 where he joined the University's Art Department. Apart from teaching at the school, the artist also took on private students; it was through this chance opportunity that Ms. Lim and her younger brother came to study in Chinese brush painting and stone seal carving with T'ing for two and a half years. Ms. Lim fondly remembers those days practicing painting in T'ing's studio, recalling her teacher's amiable and sincere attitude towards his students. In 1969, T'ing painted these two portraits of his pupil the year before she moved to America, to present to her as a commemorative gift before she embarked on her long journey-a perfect display of the profound friendship shared between the teacher and his student.
T'ing Yin-yung's oil paintings are far outnumbered by his works in ink on paper, however the quality of these works is in no way inferior; his oil paintings display an energy and skill, exuding a unique visual power. In his youth, the artist was sent to study in Japan under the auspices of the Guangdong provincial government; in 1921, he was admitted to the prestigious Tokyo School of Fine Arts and received academic training under Professor He Tianying, studying western painting. This solidified T'ing's comprehension and mastery of Western theory and methods. While Plein Air Painting, a style favoring European romanticism and symbolism, was the major style of academic painting taught at time, T'ing found himself drawn to the bold colour and unrestrained lines of Fauvism instead. the vocabulary in which he found his visual voice.
As the scholar Gao Meiqing (a former professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong) once noted, from early on T'ing had established aspirations to develop his art, following a clear path that abandoned the confines of realism and instead putting emphasis on "specializing in the skill of line." Considering Seated Lady in Green Blouse and Portrait of a Lady in Yellow Cardigan, it is not difficult to find comparisons between the fluid lines and bold use of colour in works of both T'ing and Matisse. The use of colour in Western painting fits alongside elements of Song dynasty literati painting in the Chinese aesthetic tradition; Ting's paintings are abundant in their sense of colour, stunning viewers in their unlimited possibility to create a dialogue between the unbridled hues and pigments, resulting in a powerful visual.
"[T'ing Yin-yung] loved using dazzling hues, but the vibrant colours do not irritate the eye, nor are they vulgar- instead they are abundant in their bright gratitude."
-Art Critic, Ni Yide
Where drawing is left behind in favor of using colour to construct the composition, viewers can clearly infer the painting's free and unconstrained lines. Occasionally dense and thick, sometimes graceful and slender, the brush strokes dance between the boundary of refined elegance and awkward clumsiness, not only imbuing these two paintings with a sense of flourishing vitality, but at the same time capturing the distinct character of this figure's temperament. In discussing T'ing's bold brushwork and unrestrained style, it is impossible not to mention Ba Dashan and Shi Tao. Starting in 1929, T'ing Yin-yung began collecting classical Chinese paintings, including many works by Ba Dashan and Shi Tao, both of whom contributed greatly to clearing a path towards coherence between Chinese and Western art. From exposure to these two great masters' ink on paper works, T'ing saw the opportunity to draw bold and innovative ideas from within tradition, fearlessly breaking forth to embody a new type of creative spirit. Here Seated Lady in Green Blouse and Portrait of a Lady in Yellow Cardigan embodying Shi Tao's line of thinking "Painting the spirit of a form, without first making a mark," revering the subjective to transcend the pursuit of realistic depiction and strive to construct an artistic mood within the portrait that conveys its vitality.
In Seated Lady in Green Blouse, white ruffles like torrential waves pour down the front of the figure's body, surging uninhibited by the green jacket behind; in the viewer's eye, the unrestrained brushwork is fluently and blithely executed without restrictions of traditional methods from either the Eastern or Western academic style. This liberation obtained through the innate spirit is no different from the methods employed by Ba Dashan and Shi Tao. Through the outlines formed by T'ing's nimble brushwork, expression conveyed though the eyes and posture of Ms. Lim's figure, conveying her graceful serenity in way that almost breathes life into the work. Although the strokes are bold and gestural, they create a tranquil atmosphere, the movement of the lines cleverly setting off the internal and refined beauty of the work.
In Portrait of a Lady in Yellow Cardigan, the treatment of the figure's cheeks allows viewers to recall traditional paintings of court ladies. Rendered elegantly in light washes of subtly gradated pink hues, her cheeks are matched with set of willow eyebrows that frame the pair of almond shaped eyes. The overall composition is dominated by the bright yellow colour, which in turn is complimented by the brightly contrasting red and green, adding a flexible sense of harmony. Although Ms. Lim is a modern woman, T'ing successfully captures the graceful yet subdued quality of the traditional Chinese woman in paintings past, in this way distinctly allowing both to coexist in harmony. Through his brush strokes, T'ing Yin-yung effortlessly and precisely conveys the fusion of East and West, threading together the ancient and the modern in this exceptionally exuberant portrayal.

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