ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)
ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more FROM A DISTINGUISHED ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)

Temple at the Mountain Peak

ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)
Temple at the Mountain Peak
Hanging scroll, ink and colour on gold paper
127.7 x 63 cm. (50 ¼ x 24 ¾ in.)
Inscribed and signed, with one seal of the artist and one dated seal of dingwei year (1967)
Dated dingwei year (1967)
Previously in the collection of Li Zulai (1910-1986) and Li Deying.
Christie’s Hong Kong, Fine 19th and 20th Century Chinese Paintings, 28 April 1996, Lot 280.
Christie's Hong Kong, Fine Chinese Modern Paintings, 30 November 2010, Lot 2644.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Sale room notice
Lot 22 (Zhang Daqian) has a guarantee fully or partially financed by a third-party who may be bidding on the lot and may receive a financing fee from Christie’s.
第22號拍賣品(Zhang Daqian)的最低出售價保證將由可能參與此拍賣品競投的第三方全部或部分提供,且該第三方可能會收到由佳士得支付的酬金。

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

Arrived in San Francisco on January 13th. Sojourn in Carmel. Flying to Japan on the 22nd. Taiwan before Lunar New Years Eve. Returning via Tokyo at the end of February. New York by the end of March.
– Zhang Daqian, letter to Wang Dandan, 1967

A gleaming kaleidoscopic storm of colours emerging from a golden vision, Zhang Daqian’s Temple at the Mountain Peak is one of the boldest and largest splashed-colour compositions created at the height of the artist’s career. Painted in his Brazil studio in 1967, and inspired by his travels to California, it captures an astonishing cascade of exuberant, jewel-like colours of azurite and malachite – percolating, coalescing, and exploding against a golden background that morphs into clouds and mist, sublimely shifting the mountain peak in and out of focus. Previously in the collection of the artist’s close friends Li Zulai and Li Deying and adorned with the artist’s special blue-and-white cloisonné enamel scroll ends, Temple at the Mountain Peak marks an unequivocal turn towards abstract lyricism. Its triumphant execution with virtuosity and intensity results in unprecedented abstract expressions that carved a new path for both the artist and Chinese painting in the twentieth century.

Temple at the Mountain Peak belongs to a group of ground-breaking splashed colour and ink landscapes dating from the late 1960s when Zhang Daqian’s travels and ascendance to the international stage brought about a rhapsodic outpouring of creativity. His main residence at the time was his beloved Garden of Eight Virtues in Mogi das Cruzes, near São Paulo in Brazil, a lush Chinese garden which he had built since 1954. Yet as his letter reveals, his artistic and social engagements frequently took him to Europe, North America and Asia. He had visited Northern California as early as 1955, sometimes stopping over and staying with his friend Zhang Shuqi in Berkeley while crossing between South America and Asia, but it was not until the mid-1960s that the Californian landscape breathed new life into his art. In summer 1967, two trailblazing exhibitions – a retrospective at the Stanford Art Museum in July curated by art historian Michael Sullivan and an ambitious selling exhibition at the Laky Gallery in August – afforded the opportunity of an extended stay on the Monterey Peninsula. From June to September 1967, Zhang toured Pebble Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur and the Yosemite Valley accompanied by friends and family, soaking up the rich colours and spectacular Californian vistas. After he returned to Brazil in September, the unmistakable golden light, gnarled cypress trees and magnificent cliffs soaring above the Pacific Ocean found their way into his landscapes with fresh resolve.

By the mid-1960s, Zhang Daqian had reached an unparalleled degree of mastery over his materials and methods after a decade of relentless experimentation. Splashing ink and colour had become his favourite technique, with Temple at the Mountain Peak resolutely demonstrating his supreme control of ink and mineral pigments. With roots firmly grounded in the landscape painting tradition of China, the splashed ink and colour techniques were also born out of necessity: his deteriorating eyesight had precluded him from painting in the meticulous, detailed style that he was so well-versed in. In Temple at the Mountain Peak , harkening back to the eighth-century artists who spilt ink onto silk in a drunken stupor, Zhang poured wet ink directly onto sized gold paper before whirling swathes of azurite and malachite colours on top, carefully controlling their flow by rotating the board on which the paper was mounted. The composition of Temple at the Mountain Peak is dominated by nebulous shapes of ink swimming above opaque hues of blues and greens at the centre – at once suggesting the luxuriant vegetation and clouds draping over a towering peak in the rain, or a bird’s eye view of the deepest blue of the ocean along a rugged coastline. Extraordinarily, the radiating soft edges of the ink forms in the foreground vividly capture brilliant light diffusing through dark clouds, bestowing the unpainted gold surface with a sublime, luminous glow. The verdant, moisture-laden aesthetic is fundamentally grounded in the Chinese tradition, fully displaying the diverse influences – from the long history of the blue-and-green landscape tradition to the art of the Dunhuang cave murals – that nourished the artist’s practice.

‘…a slightly drunken collaboration of Franz Kline and Hans Hofmann, with a few asides from Jackson Pollock, and a splash or two from Adolf Gottlieb…’
– Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, 1972

Except for a few sharp brushstrokes representing grass, twisted branches of a tree and the temples standing on top of the mountain, Temple at the Mountain Peak remains almost purely non-figural. In a long history of painting landscape with monochromatic ink brushwork and textured strokes, it heralds Zhang Daqian’s most radical and revolutionary departures from tradition. ‘Living faraway in a foreign country,’ he explained in 1950, after leaving China, ‘provides one with the freedom from disturbance to paint and create; furthermore, I can promote Chinese paintings in the West’. In the decade prior to the creation of Temple at the Mountain Peak, he exhibited widely in Europe, including showing alongside a major Henri Matisse retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1956. Despite his admission that he never fully understood ‘Western art’, he remarked that he observed in Matisse’s sketches ‘lessons from Dunhuang’. His meeting with Pablo Picasso at his Cannes villa La Californie became a much-publicised event. In Paris, he was the guest of honour of Chinese expatriate artists Zao Wou-ki and Pan Yuliang, both active in the contemporary French art world where the spontaneous, gestural art of tachisme was in vogue. Perhaps coming into contact with both the gestural art of the School of Paris and the abstract expressionists in America was what irrevocably reinvigorated his splashed colour and ink practices, propelling his art into unexpected directions.

The summer of 1967 that Zhang Daqian spent in California was, incidentally, the Summer of Love. As the alternative youth cultural movement reached a fever pitch, a friend recalled while the artist was walking in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, young people approached him and presented him with a garland, regarding the artist dressed in a long scholar’s robe with flowing beard as a guru and discussing Buddhist philosophy with him. In addition to the spectacular natural landscape, the creative momentum and energy he witnessed ultimately drew him to purchase a home in Carmel in 1968. By the end of the 1960s, Zhang had made California his home, buoyed by the vibrant Chinese community there. In a sense, Temple at the Mountain Peak bears witness to this turning of a new leaf in the artist’s career: although according to the inscription, Temple at the Mountain Peak was painted on the Lake of Five Pavilions in his Brazil studio, the painting’s shimmering blue and green colours, indications of spring, likely suggest its dating creation to late 1967 – springtime in the southern hemisphere – upon his return from California. An ode to the place that sparked his artistic imagination, Temple at the Mountain Peak viscerally captures the artist’s joy, in which the sublimity of the landscape lends strength to his brush.

After its completion, Temple at the Mountain Peak was specially mounted by Zhang Daqian’s studio in Japan, and decorated with rare porcelain scroll ends with a pattern inspired by the eaves tiles of Chinese architecture – all details that speak to the importance of the painting within his oeuvre. Temple at the Mountain Peak was affectionately collected by Li Zulai and his wife Li Deying. The two families had long been close since the artist’s youth; during his early years in Shanghai, he was taken in by Li Zulai’s parents who sponsored and hosted him. He was also particularly close to Li Zulai’s elder sister Li Qiujun, whom he called his ‘soulmate for life’. After the Li couple moved to Hong Kong in 1948, they remained in close contact with the artist and organised his first exhibitions in Hong Kong, with the artist dedicating many paintings to the couple in reminiscence of the happy moments they shared together. Lovingly referred to by the artist as his brother, Li Zulai visited Zhang in Brazil in 1968, and again in California with Li Deying in 1974, standing as a testament to the close bond between Zhang and the collectors.

It was during his time in California that Zhang Daqian, who had hitherto tasked himself with promoting Chinese art, became a truly international artist. Following the first exhibition in 1967, two more commercial exhibitions at Laky Gallery introduced the artist’s most extreme explorations of abstraction to a predominantly non-Chinese audience. Reviewing his 1972 exhibition at Laky Gallery, the critic Alfred Frankenstein duly noted that Zhang Daqian’s kinaesthetic gestures were in direct dialogue with Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock and Adolf Gottlieb. A powerful affirmation of the artist’s continuous expansion of the field of Chinese ink painting with a contemporary visual idiom, Temple at the Mountain Peak furthers his life-long quest to challenge the past in a rapidly globalising world.

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