Lotus Lantern
signed in Chinese (lower left)
ink and colour on paper
68 x 67.5 cm. (26 3/4 x 26 5/8 in.)
one seal of the artist
Formerly the Property from Ms Yuan Xiangwen Collection
Private Collection, USA

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

Entering the artistic world of Lin Fengmian, one sees a mountain village of poetic charm, in which every single blade of grass and tree is Lin's memory of his native soil, as well as an integration of his emotion and imagination. Parting with his mother has led Lin into the tranquil world of painting, which then became a language to express his innermost emotions and his longing for his mother. His genuine passion for art has thus been gradually cultivated. During his primary and secondary education, Lin received training in traditional Chinese painting, which laid a solid foundation for his future artistic career. After graduation from high school, he came to understand that leaving his hometown was imminent towards his artistic pursuits. In 1919, with determined resolution, Lin travelled to France, to begin his legendary journey in modern painting.

Lin's mentor, Mr. H. Yancesse, who was the Headmaster of National School of Fine Arts in Dijon (Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Dijon), encouraged him to 'learn the most treasured and outstanding art form of China, as it would be a mistaken otherwise'. Yancesse's words guided Lin through his art. With this advice Lin was determined to grasp the value and essence of Chinese art through the study of Chinese ceramics, calligraphy, and ink painting, in addition to the vigorous learning of Western Academic style and contemporary art, which the latter had yet to come into limelight. In 1924, the Chinese Art Exhibition was held in France, in which Lin's oil painting Searching was exhibited and highly commended. Educator Cai Yuanpei was impressed and moved by Lin's ability to convey mankind's exploratory attitude of life. For him, Lin's work is no longer confined by the stylistic boundaries of Chinese or Western, instead it exudes the common spirit that underlies all forms of artistic endeavours universally. In 1925, Lin's ink painting Life was exhibited at the 'International Crafts and Arts Exposition'; where once again Cai Yuanpei was touched by the vigorous vitality manifested in the work. Not only did the two works impress and touch the Chinese populace deeply, they also gained wide recognition from the artistic community in France, hence were chosen to participate in the French Autumn Salon. The close attention that Lin paid to the human spirit and his profound idea reflected in his artistic creation resonate with Cai's educational motto of 'replacing religion with art education'. Under the recommendations of Cai and his peers, Lin later became the headmaster of Beijing National Academy of Arts at the young age of 26, henceforth dedicating himself at revolutionizing art education in China.

In 1926, not long after Lin returned from his study in Europe, he wrote The Prospect of Chinese and Western Arts , in which he clearly stated the principle he holds for the development of art - "As a matter of fact, the shortcoming of Western art is exactly where the strength of Eastern art lies, and vice versa. . Through complementing each other, a new art emerges. " Lin also pointed out that "the prosperity of one's national culture must have a solid foundation, while absorbing cultures from other people, so that new eras are continuously created ." (Excerpt from Lin Fengmian in 'New Theory of Chinese Painting' 1929). His grand aspiration to reconcile Chinese and Western arts could be traced back to the time when he studied in the National School of Fine Art in Paris. While in China, Lin systematically revolutionized Chinese ink painting: he revived the magnificent creation and the strength of the Chinese art form that bears five thousand years of history, at the same time he complemented it with the vigour of Western Art. The result is a Chinese contemporary art that encompasses both Chinese and Western artistic elements, one that is enriched with contemporaneity, nationality and individuality.

Lin's artistic career can be divided into different stages, from his study in Paris, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Shanghai to Hong Kong. After resigning as the headmaster from Hangzhou National College of Art, Lin moved to Shanghai, where in the 1950s and 1960s enabled him to further develop his artistic concepts. It is during this period when Lin's artistic creation came to maturity. The five paintings are offered in this auction, Lady Playing Pipa (Lot 1061), Autumn Forest (Lot 1063), Lotus Lantern (Lot 1060), Lotus Lantern (Lot 1059) and Still Life (Lot 1062), are all painted by Lin during at this very period. They provide powerful insights into Lin's theory and method of integrating Chinese and Western Art.

The application of line in traditional Chinese Art is one the artistic directions which Lin studied, reformed and developed. According to Lin, lines are central to Chinese artistic culture: from ancient Chinese characters or ideograms which are constructed with lines; to calligraphy which focus on balance and harmony to the patterns of lines; to the art of painting, which emphasizes on the aesthetics of curved lines. Lin's paintings of landscapes, palace ladies, Chinese Opera figures and still lifes all feature his theories on the use of lines. In his work Lady Playing Pipa, Lin boldly applies white lines and white powders to the pastel purple. His curved lines, smooth, translucent and applied in single strokes, outlines the body and clothes of the lady, and manifests an aura of calmness, grace, and translucence. This type of line is derived from Eastern Jin's Gu Kaizhi's Admonitions of the Instructress to the Palace Ladies (Fig. 1) in which the smooth and continual lines resemble the quality of silk. Through brushstrokes that combine strength and tenderness and with the use of curve lines in sketching the outfits, a vivid figure is thus rendered. Making use of the versatility in line, Lin demonstrates in his work the harmony between sturdiness and suppleness, as well as the graceful amusement and the power of joy. The translucent curved lines visualize not only the many layers of gauze on the protagonist, but also bring to reality the physical presence of the costume. The curved outlines of the celadon vase in the background and of the pipa held by the lady echo her body and posture, establishing an inseparable spatial relationship. Lin said, regarding the use of line, "What we can pay attention to, while speaking of lines, is 'the line of gracefulness and liveliness'. Curved and straight lines are in opposition, the latter is tranquil and peaceful, a manifestation of continual balance ." In addition to using curved lines in painting, artists use straight lines to separate spatial planes and geometric shapes to create background, to balance the lively curved lines and create a dynamically harmonized atmosphere. Lin not only uses coloured lines in spatial separation, he also tactfully introduces the Henri Matisse's Fauvist use of colourful patterned shapes to demonstrate a sense of space and contemporaneity. On top of thick poster paint, Lin applies light ink to delineate facial features of the lady. Lin skillfully combines the abstract coordination in Amedeo Modigliani's portraits into his own paintings, to produce simple lines to depict her face and her hands playing the pipa , creating a scene that is pithy, lively, and coordinative.

Landscape painting is one of the main focuses in Lin's journey to revolutionize modern Chinese art. In Lin's point of view, even though the development of Chinese landscape painting preceded that of the West and the concept of temporal change was developed at an earlier stage, the skill to represent such change in a comprehensive manner was not quite established. Chinese landscape paintings, limited by its use of ink and water, usually depicts gloomy scene of rain, fog and cloudiness; the depiction of sunshine complex colours was almost impossible. In his unique landscape paintings, Lin introduces Western Impressionist concepts of light and the refraction of colours. He merges water and ink with colours harmoniously, at the same time emphasizing the fundamental elements of Chinese landscape tradition, in order to express his yearning for homeland in a more profound Eastern artistic concepts. The painting Autumn Forest (Lot 1063) is distinguished by its immeasurable spatiality, where only traces of colours are applied to the river surface, gentle slopes, distant mountains and the sky, depicted based on the principle of perspective drawing. On a square plane Lin created distances of near and far suggesting the depth of space. With the use of cool colour tones, Lin fills the painting with an air of unconventional romantic remoteness, echoing ancient Chinese painter Guo Xi's words, "to gaze horizontally from the distance, one feels calm and dimly discernible", Autumn Forest creates a "realm beyond the image " through the elements of emptiness, abstraction, distance and depth. One may encounter it from near to distant, and perceive the artistic mood from concrete to abstract.

Upon a closer look at the painting, one may find that in order to overcome the restriction imposed by traditional Chinese painting material use, Lin innovates through painting tools, as well as the skills in colour mixing and application. Lin is thoroughly knowledgeable in the permeability of water and ink on xuan papers, as well as the transparency and permeability of some mineral pigments and ochre common in Chinese paints after being applied on xuan papers. In order to strengthen the scenery's texture and stabilize the fluidity of ink and water, Lin mindfully applies multi-coloured paints - by adopting the method of 'overlapping ink and colour', creating fullness without adding stagnancy. The landscape painting thus shows a complex superimposition of colour layers, and the alternating layers of thick and thin water-based paints. Concurrently, the painter uses some light and overlapping colour shapes in depicting the beeches, and thin layers of colour in painting the river surface, so as to balance the scenic depth. Taking yellow as the fundamental colour key, Lin further mixes it with gold, green, brown and red, to paint in a carefree manner to create a multi-layered scrub, giving the scenery a stronger sense of light-shadow penetration. Such methodology helps Lin to break away from traditional Chinese ink painting and establishes his unique characteristic in painting.

In the process of reforming traditional ink painting, Lin added essences of Chinese folk arts to it; he thinks that 'creativity' and 'vitality' can be seen from folk arts. When living in Shanghai, he liked to watch shadow play, folk drama and Chinese opera, which gave him much inspiration in his artistic creation. He figured out the delicate relationship between spatiality and temporality in Chinese drama, and its difference from its Western counterpart. Western drama manifests the change of space and time by changing the stage setting. With the absence of complicated stage sets, Chinese opera merely uses a piece of plain cloth as the background throughout the drama even with the change of scenes. Music and the sound of gongs and drums become an important means to tell the change of an act. Even though situated in the same space and background, the opera figures have traversed through time. With this inspiration, Lin uses this demonstration of temporal and spatial to express the abstract theory of the cubists. In Lin's point of view, the cubists employ the means of deconstruction and reconstruction, to show the change of time and the various perspectives of an object or image on a one-dimensional plane, the canvas. In Pablo Picasso's works for example, an object or image was deconstructed into geometric figures, which are then put on top of each others. In Chinese culture, the continual sense of time is interwoven and combined in one single space by means of integration. In a way, Lin has inherited and continues the tradition of time and space manifestation unique to Chinese opera. He perceives the square-shaped xuan paper as plain stage setting in Chinese opera, to capture the scenes in different points of time, constructing the creative Chinese Opera Series .

Lotus Lantern' is one of the themes in Lin's well-studied Chinese Opera Series. 'Lotus Lantern', also known as 'Hewing the Mountain to Rescue Mother', is a story about the reunion of a mother and a son: Chenxiang, the grown-up son of Goddess Sanshengmu, manages to rescue his mother by capturing the magical Lotus Lantern and splitting opens the Lotus Hill where his mother was imprisoned. It is believed that the drama characters of Lotus Lantern Lin portrays reflect his personal experience of the remote but realistic remembrance of his mother. The two Lotus Lantern paintings offered in this auction give us a glimpse of how the artist deals with the same topic at different stages, and how he instills his emotions into the figures he portrays, expressing his own reflection on life through allegory.

Analyzing Lin's renowned Chinese Opera Series, in which Lotus Lantern (Lot 1060) is among the earlier works, one sees that the artist overlaps human figures to demonstrate the sense of temporal continuity. Lin once said, "Old drama makes use of separate acts to tell the story K this separation seems to suggest temporal continuity. K Like Picasso, he sometimes deals with objects by overlapping them on a single surface. After watching an old drama, I pile up opera characters from different acts on my paintings. The aim is not to show the volume of the figures, but the overall cohesiveness of the scene. " In the square painting, the Goddess Sanshengmu occupies the central position; those who follow her are Chenxiang, who is holding the Lotus Lantern, and Zhaoxia, who is brandishing a sword. The three figures overlap each other, layers of fine clothes interweave between various spatial layers, implying the complicated relationship between the characters and the intricately woven plot. It somehow resembles Marcel Duchamp's early work, which shows consecutive movements of his character. The three figures constitute a big circle in Lotus's composition. The way Sanshengmu leans towards the right, Chenxiang's leftward leaning posture, and the way her arm with the Lotus Lantern bends into a curve line, are arranged in line with this circle. The way Sanshengmu posits her arms also makes another circle. The alternation of layers in a 'blue-purple-blue' sequence, establishes a compact spatial orientation. Rigorous composition of the painting enhances its density, as well as smoothens and tightens the connection of the plot. Lin's effective expression and thoughtfulness in displaying the continuity of time are thoroughly displayed through the movement and translucency of the dresses. In Lotus Lantern , the artist has imaginatively extended the figures' hair to the bottom, guiding viewer's attention to the fluttering dresses. The hair interweaving with the dresses, employ the 'graceful and lively' lines and exaggerated curves to bring out energy of the figures. Lin would apply thick layers of white powder onto Sanshengmu's dark purple sleeves at last, as if reflecting spotlight onto the centre of the painting. On one hand Lin introduces light into traditional ink painting, on the other, he amplifies the theatricality of the events on stage. The painting has seen techniques such as the overlapping of figures and the interlacing of colours, resulting in a three-dimensional composition that breaks away from the mono-spatial limitation. It narrates and suggests time continuity and the changing of scene, thus explores topics common to modern art such as the integration of time and multifaceted nature of the world.

Comparing to the cool colour tone and the mere concept of figure-overlapping in Lotus Lantern (Lot 1060) and Lotus Lantern (Lot 1059) is brightly-coloured, and introduces more decorative elements in it. Lin said, "My inspiration in depicting the characters comes from drama and Chinese opera face masks K I take Chinese opera as a taste of Chinese dance, and I present it in a modern way ." In the painting, the three characters are stretching their arms into shapes of a crescent moon, and their palms are boldly and completely simplified, so as to construct figures with varying layers. Applying white lines and powders on rich and thick colour creates a transparent effect resembling the fine gauze; it looks even lighter and more transparent when the light is shone against, as if it is another illusive spatial sense produced by some translucent crystals. The flying white sleeves not only signify a rich flavour of Chinese dance, but also suggest an instantaneous movement. Lin further treats the square paint paper as the background cloth on stage, though he constructs the background with the representative counterlight method, with the light source coming from behind the characters, the bright background not only places emphasis on main characters in the back and forth layers, but also extends the profound depth. In Lin's painting, the virtue and tradition of Chinese opera are promoted to higher level of refinement; it is because of Lin's exploration on temporal element and the dynamic Chinese opera, which are then combined with the beauty of traditional Chinese lady to produce this masterpiece.

Lin expresses that, "although Cubism was founded by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, it is indeed a continuality of Cezanneism ", and "Cubism's aesthetic basis on painting lies in geometry ". Still life painting has become the frontline of Lin's experimental innovation; his aims were to pursue the geometric rules governing artistic construction, to present the aesthetics and the complexity of geometric shapes, and to incorporate his expectations towards history and modernity in the context of his paintings. The rare still life series is a theme that Lin worked on upon developing Picasso and Cezanne's theories; once again, he employs the means of integration rather than separation to manifest fully the concrete-abstract relationship between object and space. The compact composition in the painting Still Life (Lot 1062) is a result of Lin's tailored simplification and groupings of the layout, in an attempt to pin down the common element in constructing geometric shapes. Lin established association and reconstructed the layout in a well-ordered way, then brought the objects closer hence reducing empty spaces. The layout is then united as a whole, creating an unbreakable cohesiveness. With the reduced empty spaces, Lin again makes use of the overlapping method as seen in the Chinese Opera Series to display his subject. With this representation, it is as if the wooden frame at the back is interwoven with the water jar in the front. The transparent vase fully exemplifies the artist's use of overlapping of objects in the front and the back. Through overlapping, object's concrete presence is enhanced. Lin shapes his subject with thick black line and a further white outline after applying colours to his painting. By using black and white lines to exaggerate the relationship between filled and empty space, the physicality of the objects is thus emphasized.

On the square table in the middle of the painting are a hot water jar, some sheets of paper, a glass vase and a wooden frame; all these objects inscribed in the biggest circle seen within the painting. A square signifies the equal extension towards all four directions in pursuit of the perfect and solid conceptual connotation. A circle on the other hand is the result of ultimate extension of a square. In making, the two shapes are strangely nearly equal in values. By putting a circle within a square, Lin has orderly allocated space on his painting. Within this circle, vertical and horizontal lines of the wooden frame are interwoven with the iron window frame; three oblique lines penetrate through straight lines of the easel and the window frame, and are in coherence with the oblique lines constituting the sheets of paper on the desk. Other than straight lines, the circle also encompasses two smaller circles, as well as an indistinct oval surrounding the hot water jar. Curve lines, which Lin calls 'the line of grace and life', once again work with the tranquil straight lines to compose a harmonious piece of music. The colouring of Still Life is closer to the earth colour tone, displaying a sense of sedimentation and solidity; it somehow bears resemblance to Picasso's early work of figure-deconstruction, which uses a dark colour tone that captures the viewer's attention to the contrast between light and shadow, and to the lines. However, the same in colour and in tone, water colour of various thicknesses highlighted the sense of perspective of light and space. Techniques such as progressive unfolding, balance and symmetry, abstract-concrete alternation are employed by Lin on Still Life , which retains the Cubists' reconstruction of reality and tension, while concurrently encompasses Chinese's ideological origin to express peace and serenity in art.

Lin Feng-mian understands both Chinese and Western concepts of art and culture; he has innovated an art in a new era and allows this new tradition to be inherited and further expanded by later generations. Hangzhou National Academy of Arts, founded by Lin, is the cradle of Chinese modern art. Lin maintains that artists should love the nature, and his in-depth study in traditional Chinese pictograms, calligraphy, painting and lines has been profoundly inspirational to Zao Wou-ki in creating his renounced 'oracle-bone inscription series', and in his abstract works which demonstrate the Chinese ideology towards the nature and universe. Lin's students such as Chu Teh-Chun, Wu Guanzhong and Chao Chun-Hsiang, all began and diverged from Lin's idea but with the foundation laid on the very root of Chinese culture, successfully developed their oil paintings that embody cultural spirit of China.

More from Chinese 20th Century Art (Day Sale)

View All
View All