YU CHENGYAO (1898-1993)
YU CHENGYAO (1898-1993)
YU CHENGYAO (1898-1993)
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YU CHENGYAO (1898-1993)
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YU CHENGYAO (1898-1993)

Magnificent Landscape

YU CHENGYAO (1898-1993)
Magnificent Landscape
signed, dated, inscribed and titled in Chinese
ink and colour on paper

58 x 1241 cm. (23 x 488 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1984
two seals of the artist
colophon by Wang Jiqian

Private Collection, Asia
Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 November 2008, Lot 561
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Taiwan Museum of Art, Retrospective Exhibition of Yu Chengyao's Works, Taichung, Taiwan, 1999. (illustrated)
Xiamen University Press, Research of Yu Chengyao Art, Xiamen, China, 2006 (illustrated in black and white, pp. 62 & 157)
Taichung, Taiwan, Taiwan Museum of Art, Retrospective Exhibition of Yu Chengyao's Works, 20 March - 20 July 1999.
Sale room notice

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Lot Essay

"Following the laws of nature rather than being hidebound by convention, I channel my appreciation of nature to create forms and expand my horizons as well, insofar as to transcend the strict confines of secular world and rigid composition, so that I can drive my idea, conception and brushstroke in an untrammeled fashion, hence this panoramic hand scroll as majestic as epic.” - Statement by Yu Chengyao

Starting in the 20th century, a number of trailblazing Chinese painters have explored the new, drawing upon tradition to create a new aesthetic for a new age. On the occasion of this special sale “Beyond Compare: A Thousand Years of the Literati Aesthetic,” Christie’s Hong Kong is deeply honored to present Magnificent Landscape (Lot 8014), the magnum opus of Taiwanese modern ink-wash painting master Yu Chengyao. This mesmerizing hand scroll measures over 12 meters in length, depicting the compelling landscapes in Yu’s mind in rich layers of ink and colour, a perfect fusion of tradition and innovation.

Born in Fujian province in 1898, Yu spent the prime of his life focused on his military career, during which he often amused himself by writing poems. After leaving the military, he emigrated to Taiwan alone and entered the business world. It was not until he entered middle age in 1954 that he chose to spurn the life of a businessman and adopt a hermit-like lifestyle. Living in seclusion in a shabby house in Taipei, he not only took delight in reading, calligraphy, and Nanguan (a style of Chinese classical music), but also began to paint. Self-taught, Yu painted simply according to his early memories of going sightseeing, effectively emulating the approach taken by literati painters of old. Jin Nong, a great painter and calligrapher of the Qing Dynasty, advocated “emulating nature, expressing individuality, employing innovative technique, evolving freehand style, stressing similitude, shaping character, and being a man of cultivation.” This is why every stroke of Yu’s brush bears his characteristic signature. His landscape paintings are simple, and their compositions are outstanding.

Of all the scenes that Yu observed during his time with the army, Mount Hua and the Yangtze River would eventually appear most frequently in his paintings. After China declared victory over Japan in 1945, Yu headed eastward from Chongqing aboard a ferry along Yangtze River. Passing the Three Gorges, he finally reached his destination—Nanjing—where he witnessed the majestic grandeur of the Yangtze River estuary. The breathtaking vistas along the 1500- km course traveled greatly widened Yu’s horizons, and the towering peaks and astonishing rocks along the way would eventually become the inspiration behind his captivating landscape paintings. Over the course of Yu’s thirty-year career as an artist, he created over 100 landscape paintings, yet only two of them are hand scrolls over 10 meters in length, both depicting the scenery of Yangtze River. One is Endless Yangtze, currently in a private collection, and the other is Magnificent Landscape, a masterpiece that captures the profound impression that the journey taken down the Yangtze River left upon the artist.

Magnificent Landscape was created in 1984, 40 years after Yu’s grand river tour when he was living in Taiwan. The Yangtze River runs through the long hand scroll, steering a serpentine course amid the mountain ranges, rocks, and shoals, forming the axis around which the composition revolves. The soaring cliffs and riverside fields make an aesthetically pleasing contrast, masterfully immersing viewers in the varying landform and scenery. Compared to Yu’s 1973 hand scroll Endless Yangtze, the present lot Magnificent Landscape not only showcases the vigorous touch and painterly quality characteristic of Yu’s technique, but also displays greater naturalness and freedom of composition. The trees and islets are in their element, well-arranged in picturesque disorder with charming effect. The painter vividly portrays the spellbinding landscape along Yangtze River with short strokes and blots, adding permutations of these strokes, blots and colours at irregular intervals. The mountain peaks and rocks are richly tactile and robust, which serves as a reciprocal foil to the distant mist, subtly rendered with pastel shades of colour. The noble spirit of “mountains and ravines stretching to the stronghold Jingmen” is reminiscent of A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains, a masterpiece by Wang Ximeng, a distinguished painter of the Northern Song Dynasty. Yu has chosen to use bold colours in his work, adding brilliant shades of green tangerine yellow, vermilion and cobalt blue to sprawl out along the extending trees and hills. Thus, Magnificent Landscape is nothing if not a modern interpretation of classical landscape painting.

As the longest river in China, the Yangtze has been a favored subject of literati and artists since ancient times. The oil hand scroll The Yangtze River in 1974 created by Wu Guanzhong in the 1970s features the use of Western skills in expressing the composition, chiaroscuro and artistic conception of classical Chinese ink-wash painting. The snowy Tibetan plateau, the terraces in Sichuan Basin, and the city ablaze with lights maintain harmonious relations with one another in this entrancing painting. The dynamism of the grand river and mountains manifests itself in the bird’s-eye view afforded by this work. What we see is an awe-inspiring landscape steamed up by clouds and mists that render the composition highly animated and ethereal. Its narrativity and aesthetic quality make each shine more brilliantly in the other’s company. In Yu’s Magnificent Landscape, by comparison, a different scene is brought to life. This landscape painting radiates a magical aura of elegant density and purity, favoring mountains over waters, thereby highlighting the difficult and dangerous mountain roads that link the Chinese province of Shaanxi with Sichuan. Yu had a profound understanding of geomorphology, probably gained from his experiences in the army. Breaking away from the techniques of classical Chinese ink-wash painting, Yu set great store by the orchestration of layers of ink and brushstroke, insofar as to offer the viewers an immersive experience, as if they personally enter the imbricating scenes dancing in this painting. In addition, Yu provided multiple perspectives from a bird’s-eye view in a single composition. Along the hand scroll, the distance between both riverbanks varies, so do those of the mountains and fields, which dramatically produces the hypnotizing visual effect that different scenes unfold as the viewer reveals new stretches of the scroll, enabling them to explore and admire the wonderful scenery, as well as find spiritual delight in the engrossing composition.

Taking a stroll down memory lane, we may recollect that Shi Tao, a famous painter in the early Qing Dynasty, created an incomparable painting Travelling Extensively to Draw from Actual Landscapes at a tremendous speed after he visited Beijing. Shi applied multiple wrinkle methods to form an imbricating structure, presenting the rheological views of magnificent rivers and mountains that hugely humble the viewer. Yu carried on this creative philosophy, representing invented scenes based on his real-life experiences. He showed forth his memories of inspiring landscapes vividly in his paintings, creating compositions that give perfect structural interpretations. Yu perpetuated the ethos of literati landscape painting; to wit, “emulating nature, and inspired by inner comprehension,” just as he personally stated: “I tried in vain to recapture my checkered past, yet fortunately my previous sketches are at hand. A little epiphany happened to me while reviewing these sketches and we become a relational duality, through which I know that all my impressions and sentiments inflamed on sightseeing trips ooze picturesque charm and artistic conception.”

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