Global notice COVID-19 Important notice

Cleopatra and Camaraman

Cleopatra and Camaraman
signed ‘Ting’, dated ‘63’, titled ‘Cleopatra and Cameraman’, inscribed ’60 cm x 73 cm’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
58.5 x 71 cm. (23 x 28 in.)
Painted in 1963
Private Collection, USA

Brought to you by

Sylvia Cheung
Sylvia Cheung

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

Condition report

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay


Painting and calligraphy sketches in ancient China were mostly line drawings in which subjects were outlined in ink. The placement of figures in the compositions, their backgrounds, layouts, overall atmosphere, and imagery were each important. By contrast, ancient sketches in the West were pencil or charcoal drafts that sought to outline their facial features and poses, studying the best method of reflecting nature and the light source; they were concerned with a concrete presentation of the image. The artistic presentation of women by Sanyu, Lin Fengmian, and Walasse Ting represents the continuing evolution of the classical concept of female beauty in the East. Each of them studied abroad, each personally experienced the changes of schools of thought in Western modernism, and they understood the origins of abstract art. But this did not prompt them to blindly pursue either realism or total abstraction; instead, they focused on how to alter their compositions, brushwork, and color so as to capture the character and appeal of their subjects. They incorporated Western techniques and media to set out the visions of Eastern aesthetics and beauty that they implicitly felt in their hearts.

Eastern paintings of beautiful women from different eras consistently favour presentations of their spirit, looks, and expression that emphasize a certain ‘vividness and charm.’ The painters of ancient China strove to give shape to their subjects’ mood and character, and to capture the joys and sorrows of the passing moments, with simple lines and minimal color. Details such as skin texture, the sculpting of physiques, and concern with light and shadow or with the precision of line were expressive elements belonging more to the Western tradition. With regard to subjects painted from life, these kinds of defining aesthetic paradigms have existed respectively in both the East and the West.

Figure paintings in Chinese culture originated from the time of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties, gradually becoming even more popular around the time of the Han. From the morality paintings of ancient times that taught filial piety and loyalty toward rulers, and the religious paintings on Daoist or Buddhist themes, their development expanded to include pleasing and visually interesting figure paintings with a strong literati flavour around the time of the Song Dynasty. The conception of the beautiful woman among Eastern artists developed gradually through the changing dynasties, and was even influenced by female nude studies sketched by Western artists, yet it still retained the core aesthetic values of the East. Christie's is honoured to present here a series of fine works by artists of previous generations centred around themes of elegant ladies and female forms. The series explores how pioneering artists of the 20th century such as Sanyu, Lin Fengmian, and Walasse Ting innovated in their paintings of women, and how they enriched the meaning of ‘the Eastern beauty.’

Beautiful female bodies were the lifelong muse of Walasse Ting, and his passion for painting beautiful women never waned. One's first impression may be that the bodies in his paintings, like his colours, belong to bold and passionate women. On closer inspection, however, the viewer finds that Ting's unique and artful lines, with their quickness and freedom, outline the most minute aspects of their expressions, and that the private emotional tone of these works is still reserved, full of an Eastern charm that is often more suggestive than openly revealing. His models seem lovely but shy, as if they are secretly peeping out from a brocadelike spray of blossoming flowers, or they are tender-hearted and just waiting silently inside one of Ting's beautifully coloured settings. Ting worked in clearly segmented blocks of lustrous color that defined the soft forms of his subjects. He had an expert grasp of the properties of his acrylic medium, and he used that Western medium to produce the wild effects of splashed ink or the light, transparent effects of washes of coloured ink. Here, a blue-eyed model with blonde hair, and another with red hair and green eyes, are covered by Ting in the mellow and graceful veil of the Eastern woman.

“Whenever I see a beautiful woman, it's as though I've seen a flower – her beauty makes me feel uncertain, worried, filled with love, invigorated, refreshed, and reborn… the beauty of flowers can cleanse one's soul, evoke sorrow, teach me to love, begin again, encourage personality, and bring rebirth, while inspiring me to use colours. I've dedicated my life to painting, just to depict those new things like the beginning of spring.” – Walasse Ting

In face of the many European and American art waves in the 1960s such as Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Pop Art, and many more, Walasse Ting found colour to be his best weapon in securing his foothold between the tension of the East and the West. Ting loved to experiment with different mediums: Chinese ink, Western oil paint, acrylic, pastel, and more. He was remarkably adept at commanding vivid colours, and boldly used contrasting hues, neons, and a cacophony of colours to challenge the viewers' optic nerves. In Love Me, Love Me (Lot 373) and Shy Girl (Lot 374), the artist used large blocks of colour to emphasise the subject's kaleidoscopic blushes, eyeshadows, red lips, and hair; he also used an intense swath of pink to bring the viewers' eyes to her blossoming body, in an explosion of passion and zeal for life. Ting's use of colour tends to echo American Pop Art at the time, and the sense of bold individualism also resonate with the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s.

Love Me, Love Me and Peach Blossom and Willow Giggling Together (Lot 372) also carry another of Ting's iconic visual element – a splatter technique that is steeped in Abstract Expressionism and Eastern calligraphy's splashed ink technique. He laid down strategically criss-crossing splashes of colour to reveal a complex sense of space on the canvas; these seemingly capricious blotches are in fact very challenging to execute. The artist needs to have a remarkably sharp sense of colour matching as well as precise control over the strength and direction of each splash, not to mention a clear framework and organisation for how these splashes fit together. This dazzling and exuberant technique is a mainstay of Ting's American period, and is symbolic of the creativity and liveliness of an artist in his prime.

Even by today's standards, Ting's works are undeniably trailblasing, befitting his status as the father of the New Ink Movement. "You can dislike his style all you want, but you must remember it".

More from 20th Century & Contemporary Art Afternoon Session

View All
View All