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

Dunhuang Dancers

LIN FENGMIAN (1900-1991)
Dunhuang Dancers
Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper
138 x 69.5 cm. (54 3/8 x 27 3/8 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, 29 May 1991, Lot 198.
Important Chinese Paintings from the Robert Chang Collection: Works by Seventeen Masters, Sotheby’s Hong Kong Ltd., Hong Kong, June 2002, pp.150-151; pl.184.
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

Lin Fengmian recognized and embraced traditional Chinese art during his studies in Paris. His teacher Yencesse once told him, ‘as a Chinese, do you understand the significance and superiority of your artistic tradition? Why do you not study it? You should! Get out of the academy and visit Musée de Guimet and Sèvres Ceramics Museum to find treasures!’ From Yencesse’s teaching, Lin forged a new path in Chinese painting. From the Parisian museum collections, Lin discovered the aesthetics of the round and powerful lines in Chinese ceramics. Upon his return to China, Lin became aware of the art of Dunhuang, possibly by seeing the landmark Zhang Daqian Dunhuang mural paintings exhibition in Chongqing during the Sino-Japanese War. In a letter Lin wrote to his student Pan Qiliu on 5 January 1952, he said, ‘if you see the murals of the Dunhuang caves, you will notice that they are the best kind of art from the East. Many European masters tried to pursue perfection in this and never succeeded; Gaugin was a prime example. I have also been pursuing this for a long time. It looks effortless but is hard to delineate. It is almost impossible for a human hand to paint two lines and fill them with the right tone of colours perfectly.’ This letter and his limited versions of Dunhuang figure paintings were from the 1950s when the artist dedicated himself to researching and exploring the art of Dunhuang.
The present lot is similar in medium and dimensions to other Dunhuang-themed works in the Shanghai Chinese Paintings Academy collection. Lin applied a textured warm grey tone to distinguish the backdrop after completing the animated figures. The earthy hue harmonizes the dancers’ darker skin colour and echos the palette of Dunhuang’s inner cave walls. Full of movement in the composition, each dancer holds a distinct pose: the flautist’s profile faces the viewers as she stands effortlessly on her tiptoe while the dancer waves her arms and twists her waists. Their torsos were draped with sheer chiffon, with long skirts in blue and purple covering their lower body; emerald jewellery adorned their wrists and heads painted in malachite pigments. Lin also used darker ink tons and white pigments to delineate a sense of three-dimensionality to bring the animated dancers to life.
When Lin Fengmian mentioned to Pan Qiliu the impossible pursuit by the Western masters, he was referring to the equilibrium between the refined and the vulgar, whether the shades of grey could harmonize the primary colours, and whether contradictory ideas and representations could achieve a delicate aesthetic. Only painted for a few years of his life, the Dunhuang figure paintings are extremely rare. The present lot was first offered by the artist’s family at Christie’s New York auction in the 1990s, from where Mr Robert Chang purchased it and has since displayed his beloved painting in his residence.

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