CHEN YIFEI (CHINA, 1946-2005)
CHEN YIFEI (CHINA, 1946-2005)

Sunset Suzhou

CHEN YIFEI (CHINA, 1946-2005)
Sunset Suzhou
signed 'Chen Yifei' (lower right)
oil on canvas
50.8 x 76.2 cm. (20 x 30 in.)
Painted in 1989
Private Collection, USA
Hammer Publishing, Chen Yifei, New York, 1990, (illustrated in color, no. 27, unpaged).
Shanghai People's Arts Publishing House, Chen Yifei, Shanghai, China, 2010, (p. 220-221).

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Jessica Hsu
Jessica Hsu

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Lot Essay

When Dr. Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum and founder of Hammer Gallery, visited China in 1985, he gifted Chen Yifei's Hometown Memories - Double Bridge to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. This painting depicts Chen's memories of an idyllic old town, the subject belonging to a larger series of works by Chen that portrays water towns often with prominent canal networks. The present lot, Sunset Suzhou (Lot 476), is part of this important series.

Depiction of water towns has a history in Chinese paintings that stretches back to the Song-Yuan period. Later in the Ming dynasty, artists also adopts landscape as a vessel to express their individualism and creative insight. Despite overlapping in subject matter, scenes portrayed in the Ming period is heavily imagined and idealized, without great fidelity to reality and often completely fiction. Sunset Suzhou integrates the Chinese setting with techniques of 15th century Venetian School's emphasis on the nonmythical treatment of subject matter that simultaneously convey a social importance. Chen's interest in this unification emerged from his trip to Europe in 1982, during which he took trips to Venice to paint its picturesque canals. Chen's dramatic depictions in Sunset Suzhou are similarly instilled with strong sentiment and atmosphere—his apparent contrast of light and shade counterbalanced by colors in river and sky, expresses his commitment to realistic representation with unifying bold theatrical undertones. This carefully controlled organization of subject matter and color grounds Chen's paintings from trappings of exoticism commonly present in Western depictions of the East, allowing his Chinese subjects greater importance.

Painted soon after his studies and experiences in Europe and the United States, Sunset Suzhou and the early Water Town paintings mark Chen Yifei's first attempts to integrate the Western traditions of painting with Chinese motifs.

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