Lotus Pond

Lotus Pond
signed in Chinese (lower left)
ink and colour on paper
68.5 x 68 cm (27 x 26 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1960
one seal of the artist
Private collection, Asia
Asia Pacific Art Promotions Ltd., Lin Fengmian: Leader of Chinese Modernism Art, Taipei, Taiwan, 1999 (illustrated, p. 249).

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Lot Essay

“Lin’s inventions enabled Chinese artists to use modern techniques to express purely Chinese feelings and to be freed from the impact of western art concepts. Many iconic modern Chinese artists studied painting under him, including Zao Wou-Ki, Wu Guanzhong and Chu Teh-chun, which shows the immense influence he has had. Therefore, he truly was a pioneer of contemporary Chinese painting.”
—Michael Sullivan, Professor of Fine Art at the University Oxford, UK

As a result of the political volatilities in the 1950s, Lin Fengmian left the art academy and moved to Shanghai, where he lived a semi-reclusive life. With the relatively relax artistic environment and the more stable living conditions that he found in Shanghai, Lin was able to fully devote his energy to research and artistic creation. It saw to the most productive phase in Lin’s artistic career. Lotus Pond was created in 1960. At this point in time, Lin had mastered his unique artistic language that was an integration of Chinese Western styles. It is reflected in the fluid brushstrokes, and the precise composition and washes in his paintings. The works encapsulate Lin’s insights from his artistic exploration in the 1950s, as they spell a solitary yet poetic sense of beauty.

As a pioneer of modern art in China, Lin Fengmian took on the fundamental question of integrating Eastern and Western arts: he chose to enter traditional Chinese painting form the perspective of Western art, and explored possible ways of merging the two on the basis of modern artistic concepts. He believed that on a fundamental level, Eastern and Western arts were distinct combinations of colours and lines that could engage in a dialogue with each other. To this end, the artist consciously sought out and reflected on the strengths of the two artistic traditions, while he gradually developed his own artistic style that turned a new page in modern art in China. Lotus Pond features a sketch-like approach that lends ambiguity to the depiction of nature, and which reflects the artist’s palette and composition. First, Lin drew on the effect of ink spread on raw xuan paper, mixing oil paint with wet ink to create the washes in the reflection on the water’s surface. Then he painted the lotus leaves in dot-like strokes, revealing the texture of colours in the layers. It embodies a unique expression of light and shade centred around the colour of ink; it also reflects Lin’s flair for execution in revamping traditional techniques. In addition, Lotus Pond revolutionized the level distance composition in Chinese landscape painting (Fig.1). The multiple horizontal lines and the common reed tilting at 45 degrees form a wedge-shaped space, which changes and enriches the composition by extending the field of depth. On Lin’s approach to composition, Lang Shanojun commented, “Landscape paintings with the level distance perspective are rich in quietness, grace and serenity, but they also have a tendency to fall into monotony. In handling this kind of composition, Lin paid a great deal of attention to the straight lines, slanting lines, curved lines and circles in the level distance, and to the changes in dynamics and colours. It brightens up the serene and quiet atmosphere.” Besides breaking the monotony in composition with lines, the artist employed ink washes with varying thickness to create blocks and flying white strokes. It opens up a sense of vibrancy and change in the composition in between the blocks, which possess both the dynamic of vertical movement and the rhythm of horizontal movement. The use of level distance may be what lends the essence of Chinese painting to this series. It was a perspective that Lin often used in depicting the vast waters of Jiangnan and mountain ranges in the distance. If one compares this series by Lin to the Le bassin aux nymphéas series by Monet (Fig.2), one sees that Lin paid less attention to the subtle changes in colour and light, but focused on the larger blocks of colour and the overall atmosphere. The order and the overlying of thick brushstrokes and colour blocks bring to mind the colours of Impressionist paintings, while also revealing distinct Chinese characteristics. As Lin borrowed from the composition of landscape painting for his vocabulary in delineating images, his student Chu Teh-chun refined his abstract expression and completely discarded realistic contour (Fig.3), as he explored the emerging realm of Abstract-Expressionism. On this artistic path from Lin Mingfeng to Chu Teh-chun, the beauty of traditional landscape painting resounded in the hearts of these Chinese artists, becoming for them rich soils of inspirations.

As a founder and pivotal figure in the development of modern art in China, Lin Fengmian devoted painstaking focus to imagery, composition and spatial organization. It instilled into his works the modernist rhythm and the classical oriental elegance, and led traditional Chinese painting into a broader, richer realm. Lin’s visions in artistic creation and education had a direct, extensive and profound impact on many influential Chinese artists of the 20th century such as Chu Teh-chun, Zao Wou-Ki and Wu Guanzhong, and changed the state of Chinese art forever.

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