LI KERAN (1907-1989)
DEPICTING THE NEW COUNTRY: FINE LI KERAN PAINTINGS FROM A DISTINGUISHED ASIAN COLLECTION (LOTS 1374-1379) In commemoration of the 70th year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Christie’s, in collaboration with a distinguished Asian collector, is presenting a series of rare works by Li Keran that were painted over three decades and are imbued with historical significance. The patriarch of the collector’s family was a child prodigy who studied and lived abroad in the US and Europe in his youth, specialising in international law and history. After his return to China in the late 1950s, he joined the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As history and the arts have always been intertwined, the patriarch developed close friendships with many leading figures of the Chinese intelligentsia and painting masters of his time, including Li Keran, Fu Baoshi, and Huang Zhou. Numerous paintings within the collection were presented as gifts: from figure painting by Fu Baoshi as a wedding gift to the collector, to awe-inspiring monumental landscapes by Li Keran. At this historical moment, Christie’s is honoured to have the opportunity to present these works, which have been meticulously preserved for over half of a century. We hope collectors and art-lovers alike can view the new direction of Chinese painting since 1949 retrospectively through them.
LI KERAN (1907-1989)

Army Crossing the Yangtze River

细节
LI KERAN (1907-1989)
Army Crossing the Yangtze River
Hanging scroll, framed, ink and colour on paper
96.2 x 60.3 cm. (37 7/8 x 23 ¾ in.)
Inscribed with a poem and signed, with two seals of the artist
Dated spring, 1964

荣誉呈献

Sandy Yom
Sandy Yom

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拍品专文

On the advent of the fifteenth year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Li Keran painted Army Crossing the Yangtze River as his interpretation of Chairman Mao Zedong’s poetic lines from “People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Occupation of Nanjing.” This painting depicts a decisive battle, which took place between April and June in 1949 at the end of the Chinese civil war, when the PLA crossed the Yangtze River and occupied Nanjing, then the capital of the Republic of China founded by the Nationalists in 1911. Afterward, the Nationalist government essentially collapsed as the PLA took advantage and pushed southward.
Chairman Mao composed this poem immediately upon learning of the victory in Nanjing, but it was not published until 1963. His solemn verses, representative of his oeuvre, describe the PLA’s brave crossing, the cataclysmic change in Nanjing, and the rhythm of political changes in history.
Li Keran painted this work in the year after the publication of Chairman Mao’s poem. The composition focuses on the invading PLA ships braving the storm. The foreground shows the ships in full sail, virtually the same as they were captured in documentary photographs (Fig. 1). In the background, the city of Nanjing can be glimpsed in the mist, and the southern gate (Fig. 2)—where the PLA entered the city—is partially visible. This painting exemplifies Li Keran’s superior ability to use ink wash to create the atmosphere. The ink-washed evening sky contrasts sharply with the light-brown ships and orange-red flags. He used white paper reserves to show the moonlight penetrating through the dense clouds. The complexity of the reflections on the waves is executed by yellow texture strokes applied with a saturated brush. Turning Chairman Mao’s quotes into painting was a common practice in the 1950s and 1960s, as they were appreciated by the intellectuals. In addition, such paintings were considered politically safe. This approach provided artists a valuable outlet for their creativity as well as their spirituality. Many painters, including Fu Baoshi, Li Keran, and Guan Shanyue, among others, took this route. Li Keran’s landscapes serve as fine examples of this genre, including Jinggang Mountain and Red Across Ten Thousand Peaks (Fig. 3). Very few paintings are based on “PLA’s Occupation of Nanjing;” the only notable one was a small painting sold by Christie’s in 2011 (Fig. 4). As such, it is likely that Li Keran painted a few works based on Chairman Mao’s poem after its publication, to commemorate the fifteenth year of the nation’s founding. Army Crossing the Yangtze River is the largest and most comprehensive known composition of this theme. This year is the seventieth year of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, and it is also the seventieth anniversary of the historic moment of “PLA Crossing the Yangtze River.” This painting serves as a rare retrospective window which looks into one of the most significant events in modern Chinese history.
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