XU BEIHONG (1895-1953)
XU BEIHONG (1895-1953)

Horse Drinking Water

XU BEIHONG (1895-1953)
Horse Drinking Water
Hanging scroll, ink and colour on paper
102 x 46 cm. (40 1⁄8 x 18 1⁄8 in.)
Inscribed and signed, with one seal of the artist
Dedicated to Madam Kunyi
One collector's seal

The recipient Zhang Kunyi (1895-1969), sobriquet Youhua, was the renowned Lingnan artist born in Panyu, Guangdong. Zhang was a disciple of Gao Qifeng (1889-1933) and was the only female artist of the artist group "Tianfeng Seven."
Further details
Renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist Chen Jiandun was born in the early 20th century and moved from China to Singapore in his youth. While in Singapore, he developed a successful career and founded a business empire in property development, shipping and cement manufacturing in Singapore and Hong Kong. Mr Chen was known for his generosity and philanthropic activities towards his hometown in China, making frequent visits and donations for infrastructure building from the 1950s.

As a keen photographer, Mr Chen became friends with many Singaporean artists in the Chinese and Western traditions who opened his eyes to Chinese paintings. With a passion for Chinese art, Mr Chen assembled an impressive collection of Chinese ink paintings throughout his life, with a particular interest in Xu Beihong, a love shared by many of his fellow Southeast Asian collectors. During his visits to China in the 1970s, he met many Beijing artists, such as Huang Zhou, Li Kuchan and Wang Xuetao, from whom he acquired these paintings. Many of these works were dedicated to him by these artists. Seven works from this collection will be offered in the Exquisite Eye: Chinese Paintings Online on 16-30 May 2022.

This work depicts a slim brown horse with a black mane, drinking water from a creek. The varying degrees of wetness of the brush are tailored to render individual parts of the horse’s body. A single stroke of a saturated brush forms the arch of a full torso. A dryer brush defines the bone structure of the spine and the rump. The contrast can also be observed in the skin and the mane and tail: the smooth and silky chestnut brown skin versus the loose and long hair of the mane and tail. Such vivid tactility almost compels the viewer to reach out and touch the horse.

A favoured theme of Xu Beihong’s, he began painting horses drinking water as early as 1930. One of these early works was published in a Chinese magazine that year and is reputed to have been exhibited at an art fair in Belgium. He noted in an inscription on a work of the same theme; “Journeying through ten thousand perilous miles, struggling to obtain a scoopful of water.” The current work was dedicated to a lady, perhaps that is why it evokes a sense of peaceful serenity instead of struggle.

The recipient of the work, “Madame Kunyi,” probably refers to Zhang Kunyi, a beloved disciple of Xu’s good friend Gao Qifeng. When Xu returned to Nanjing from Europe in 1934, it was Zhang Kunyi who informed him of Gao’s death. In addition to mentioning Zhang in his writing for a commemorative publication for Gao, Xu has also inscribed Zhang’s works. This work was likely created around the same time in Nanjing.

Brought to you by

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

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