LIN FENGMIAN (1900-1991)
LIN FENGMIAN (1900-1991)
LIN FENGMIAN (1900-1991)
LIN FENGMIAN (1900-1991)
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LIN FENGMIAN (1900-1991)

Opera Figures - Slain Six Generals and Breached Five Passes

LIN FENGMIAN (1900-1991)
Opera Figures - Slain Six Generals and Breached Five Passes
Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper
66 x 65 cm. (26 x 25 5/8 in.)
Signed, with one seal of the artist
Property of Dino Terese Markowitz, daughter of the artist.
Christie’s New York, Fine Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy, 28 November 1990, Lot 226.
Important Chinese Paintings from the Robert Chang Collection: Works by Seventeen Masters, Sotheby’s Hong Kong Ltd., Hong Kong, June 2002, pp.174; pl.204.
Further details
This season, Christie’s is honoured to present Bountiful Colours: Important Lin Fengmian Paintings from the Robert Chang Collection. Exceptional in quality, bountiful in colours, and rare in their compositions, these paintings have been in the collection for over three decades and adorned Chang’s home for an equally long time. Opera Figures, Dunhuang Dancers, and Autumn Forest are undoubtedly some of the best examples of the artist’s works that have ever come to the market and represent the pinnacle of the artist’s career in different stages of his life.
Born in Shanghai in the 1920s, Chang opened a department store in his teens before quitting for Hong Kong in 1948 during the Chinese Civil War. Chang arrived in Hong Kong alone, lacking academic qualifications and carrying just a suitcase and $24 in his pocket. With no friends, family or money and without speaking any English or Cantonese, Chang had a can-do attitude and a father who could help kick-start his career from afar. His father, a respected antique dealer in Shanghai, sent his son a steady supply of objects to sell from his stall in Cat Street Market with notes explaining why they were important and how to price them. Growing up surrounded by art and antiques, Chang perceived his father as his teacher and inspiration.
Not long after setting up on Cat Street, Chang became an important broker between Hong Kong and Taiwan. As he started making money and his appreciation of antiques grew, he began to build a collection of his own — particularly in ceramics and Chinese paintings. Chang actively bought at a time when antiques and paintings were relatively “cheap” by today’s standards. Where British and American collectors had dominated the Chinese antiquities market in the first half of the 20th century, Chang — along with peers such as T.Y. Chao, J.M. Hu, K.S. Lo and E.T. Chow — was one of a few Chinese collectors who helped turn Hong Kong into a hub in the second half of the 20th century. By the 1960s, he ran five stores and became the golden boy of the Chinese art and antiquities trade.
When the traditional way of doing business in Hong Kong was mainly private transactions between dealers and collectors, Chang helped usher in a complex new marketplace: in the 1980s, he was instrumental in encouraging the major auction houses to set up in the city. His contribution to the industry lies far beyond his own business.
Chang attributes his success to a willingness to learn. He has never stopped looking to improve his knowledge — whether reading books, talking to other experts, or travelling the world to see art in auctions and museums. This spirit is symptomatic of a passion for his subject and a deep-rooted work ethic. ‘Retirement isn’t on my agenda,’ he says. ‘I’m going to work till the day I drop… As long as there’s something I fancy — and can afford — I’m still determined to acquire it. Even if I were 150 years old, I’d feel compelled to buy it.’

Brought to you by

Carmen Shek Cerne (石嘉雯)
Carmen Shek Cerne (石嘉雯) Vice President, Head of Department, Chinese Paintings

Lot Essay

The inspiration for Lin Fengmian’s Slain Six Generals and Breached Five Passes came from Chapter Twenty-Seven of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. General Guan Yu went through five passes and slain six of Cao Cao’s generals to escape and reunite with his sworn brother Liu Bei. The composition, packed full of colours and geometric shapes, is a feast for the viewer’s eyes. Among a sea of semi-visible characters, General Guan Yu stands out in a green robe and headdress, his head tilting right, exuding an invincible spirit. Two women, possibly Liu Bei’s wives, are standing timidly behind Guan Yu, their facial expressions pale and blank. A white-faced character emerges from the left and is perhaps one of the six generals whom Guan Yu would slay to escape from Cao Cao. The composition manifests countless faces, clothes, and weapons weaved together indistinguishably as if an actual fighting scene in a battleground.
The present lot comes from Lin’s literature-themed series in the 1950s. Another famous work, Flooding the Monastery, which is based on White Snake Legend, also came from this body of works. Lin perceived cubism as the vital art movement after impressionism in 20th-century Europe and applied it successfully in his works. By using colour, line and plane emphasized by cubism, Lin attempted to break through the artistic expression of realism. The result enabled him to enhance his compositional structure and logically express his thoughts. Lin introduced a sense of temporality in the two works, whereby his characters enter the composition according to their order of appearance in the book, overlapping each other as they fade into obscurity. Indeed, the twenty scenes in Slain Six Generals and Breached Five Passes only revolve around two characters and are void of fighting scenes. However, Lin’s depiction of a chaotic set is undoubtedly a creative outlet, his afterthoughts and his real emotions. In a letter he wrote to Pan Qiliu in November 1952, full of excitement, he said, ‘I found a new method after watching an old opera: I overlap the characters one by one on my composition. My aim is not to pursue the sense of volume of individual objects and people but a sense of integrated continuity. The painting doesn’t look bad, so I will watch old operas again to look for a fresh, vibrant colour palette and funny, awkward movements. I painted dozens of works depicting the masks worn by the stage actors because they intrigued me. In the new way of painting, the style has changed so drastically that many of my friends went completely shocked and accused me of going crazy.” Lin’s joy and self-gratification in discovering a new expression are thoroughly demonstrated in his words to Pan. In his later years, Lin Fengmian re-interpreted many of these compositions again, rendering a different outlook with less emphasis on exploring forms but a much stronger focus on his emotional expressions.

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