2 More

Bloodline-Big Family: Comrade No. 5;Bloodline-Big Family: Comrade No. 8

Bloodline-Big Family: Comrade No. 5;
Bloodline-Big Family: Comrade No. 8
both signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘1995 Zhang Xiaogang’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
each: 130 x 100 cm. (51 1/8 x 39 3/8 in.) (2)
Painted in 1995
Galerie de France, Paris, France
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Hanart TZ Gallery and Galerie Enrico Navarra, Umbilical Cord of History: Paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, Hong Kong and Paris, 2004 (illustrated, p.73)
Huang Zhuan, ed., Zhang Xiaogang: Works, Literature and Research, 1981-2014, Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House, 2016 (illustrated, plate 158 & 161, p. 372-373).

Brought to you by

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

Lot Essay

“On the surface the faces in these portraits appear as calm as still water, but underneath there is great emotional turbulence. Within this state of conflict, the propagation of obscure and ambiguous destinies is carried on from generation to generation.”
Zhang Xiaogang

Few works of art can be described as defining an entire era, but Zhang Xiaogang's Bloodline series is one of them. In 1990s, Zhang Xiaogang’s portraits caused huge sensation on the global art scene. Their uniquely Chinese aesthetic — the reserved, implicit style, and rich sense of history — presented the world with a refreshing new perspective on Chinese contemporary art. The series of portraits became an integral part, both in Zhang Xiaogang's career and in Chinese contemporary art history.

The young woman and man depicted in Bloodline – Big Family: Comrade No. 5 and Bloodline – Big Family: Comrade No. 8 are archetypical portraits that question identity. Uniforms are the most direct indication of the status of a character. During 1960s and 1970s, the uniform with its characteristic collar was the national garment. The uniform was considered as an erasure of individuality and an expression of submission.

The iconic portraits of Zhang have become one of the most representative images of Chinese avant-garde painting since the 1990s. His black and white impassive visages, are connected by a thin red thread, characteristic of his Bloodline series, serve as a metaphor for a society that is in constant struggle with its own past, present and future.

Painted in 1995, it represents Zhang’s style at the pinnacle of maturity, with its smooth, calm and controlled brushwork and intricate details all finely knit together. It links one’s personal history with the collective memory of the larger society against the socio-political environment of the era. It further documents an era that was defined by the onechild policy and "educated youth" (zhiqing) who were sent down to the countryside.

Zhang Xiaogang's extreme sculpting of details injects strong, complex emotional undercurrents into a painting that, on the surface, projects solemnity and distance. He employs what could be called a Chinese mode of expression, using veiled or implicit elements that strike directly at the deep emotional core of the culture. The artist followed a rigorous procedure in order to achieve a specific sense of indifference and distance. He first applied one layer after another of very thin paint, and repeated this step four or five times, after which he used drier pigments to paint the patches of light on their faces. These produce the textural feel through which he evokes the sense of mottled, faded old photos after the passage of years. The red filaments that wind and twist through the painting, reminiscent of the lines of love and pain in Frida Kahlo's works, symbolize the fragile and easily broken bonds that link us. The background, like the dense fog of history, is hazy and indistinct.

Art historian Li Xianting once said, "The Big Family series, from 1993 to the present, represents not just Zhang Xiaogang's own period of artistic maturity, but a certain maturity in Chinese contemporary art as well. […] Even if he employed the language of Western contemporary art, he still, through expressing the feelings of contemporary Chinese people, successfully transformed it into a personal language." Old photos are vehicles for past memories, and perhaps the people and the stories that those photographs represent are no longer with us. But Zhang's paintings gives audiences a key with which to awaken those memories. Through the tranquil power of his paintings, Zhang ushers viewers into a spiritual place, a palace full of memories, where viewers find that their distant, tender memories of families and bloodlines, and their historical, collective, and inherited memories have been permanently engraved.

More from 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale

View All
View All