LIU YE (B. 1964)
LIU YE (B. 1964)
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LIU YE (B. 1964)

Woman Reading

LIU YE (B. 1964)
Woman Reading
signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘Liuye 2003’ (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
100 x 80 cm. (39 3/8 x 31 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2003
Schoeni Gallery, Hong Kong
Private collection, Europe
Anon. sale, Christie’s London, 1 July 2009, lot 101
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Hilary Binks, Manfred Schoeni (ed.), Liu Ye: Red, Yellow, Blue, exh. cat., Schonei Art Gallery, Hong Kong, 2003 (illustrated, p. 53).
Liu Ye, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern, Switzerland, 2007 (illustrated, p. 85).
Fang Zhenning (ed.), The Power of the Universe: The Frontier of Contemporary Chinese Art, exh. cat., Asia Art Center, Beijing, China, 2007 (illustrated, p. 14).
Art and Investment 8: Numbers, N. N., August 2009 (listed, p. 14).
Christoph Noe (ed.), Hatje Cantz, Liu Ye: Catalogue Raisonne: 1991-2015, Ostfildern, Germany, 2015 (illustrated, plate 03-09, p. 149 & 312).
Beijing, China, Liu Ye: Red, Yellow, Blue, Schoeni Art Gallery, November 2003. This exhibition later travels to Hong Kong, Schoeni Art Gallery, January 2004.
Hong Kong, Images of Woman VIII, Schoemi Art Gallery, 9 October – 12 November 2003.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

Lot Essay

A seated young lady with carefully coiffed hair and rouged cheeks glances down at an open book filled with paintings by Dutch master Piet Mondrian. Dressed in scarlet red loungewear, the sitter’s blouse drapes loosely over her bosom to reveal a cream-coloured lace brassiere. Sensuous yet daring, Liu Ye paints an alluring portrait with subtle inferences to a diverse range of aesthetic, literary and cultural sources.

In 2003, Liu Ye began to work on an informal series of paintings featuring nymph-like girls and women reading a book, often in provocative poses. Over the years, the artist has produced a total of eight works in this particular theme. Woman Reading was the first of this informal series and is the only portrait that makes the sitter’s reading material visible. The depiction of women reading has been a recurring theme throughout art history. From Johannes Vermeer’s seminal masterpiece Woman Reading a Letter (c. 1663) to Théodore Roussel’s classical study of nude portraiture in The Reading Girl (1886–7) to Balthus’ erotic rendering of young girls in Katia Reading (1974), Liu Ye’s contemporary rendition of the age-old theme masterfully draws on a rich background of sources, yet also exhibits the artist’s prowess as a technical painter. Sharing the sumptuous colours of Vermeer, whilst referring to the erotically charged imagery of Balthus, Woman Reading is a masterpiece imbued with a modern flair.

Rendered in dusty pinks and burgundy reds, there is a Mondrian sense of geometry, balance and order. The sitter’s hair, unfurling with licks of red paint, echoes the subtle shading of scarlet red lips, cheeks and limbs. The background, divided into two shades of pink, mirrors the dusty rose shadows running along the edges of the page. The artist himself has said “(t)he appearance of Mondrian’s paintings within my own paintings is spiritual. His paintings are so pure, relying only on the most basic of colours, and vertical and horizontal lines. I, too, want to engage in the problem of purity.” Liu Ye strips down the work and relies on the foundations of painting like scale, colour scheme and composition to create a compelling narrative of a mysterious young woman contemplatively reading a book on one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.

Increasingly, Liu Ye has used books as a key motif in his painting practice. In Woman Reading, the book can be read as both an aesthetic object and personal story. The artist’s father was a writer of children’s books and from a young age, Liu Ye was exposed to the likes of Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll. The artist himself, recalling the ideological climate of growing up during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) in China, once said “(i)t was politically dangerous to read such books in those days. However, these fantastic stories with their beautiful illustrations opened up a new and wonderful world to me.” For Liu Ye, the inclusion of books in his paintings are manifestations of his appreciation for and love of history and literature. Such affection can be seen in Woman Reading. The book is carefully worked upon through a slow and meticulous process, in which the artist builds layer upon layer of painting, creating a glaze-like surface that recalls the technique of early-Dutch painters mixed with the conceptual and structural rigor of modernists.

The last three decades of Liu Ye’s artistic career has been a continual and steady refinement of the artist’s bold, yet meditative paintings that investigate the intersections of history through a distinct visual language. As of last year, the artist joined David Zwirner’s exceptional roster of artists and will mount a solo exhibition dedicated to the subject of books. Zwirner himself attests that “Liu Ye has created a unique pictorial vocabulary. I believe him to be one of the most interesting figurative painters working in China today.”

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