During the renewal of modern Chinese art in the 20th Century, Lin Fengmian discovered, through his paintings of landscapes, still-lifes, and women, entirely new aesthetic values and practices. His paintings of autumn forests introduce an Impressionist view of refracted light and colour into works that pleasingly combine ink and colour. Autumn Forest (Lot 1010) offered in this season's Evening Sale differs from his other autumn scenes in both colour and composition. The artist here focuses less on the autumn foliage and its fiery radiance, giving prominence instead to elements drawn from traditional Chinese landscape painting. The result is a deeper view into Eastern concepts, allowing the artist to give voice to a deep longing for his youthful home.
Blue clouds float in the sky, yellow leaves are strewn across the ground.
Waves are rolling, above them cold mists of jade.
The slanting sun shines on the hillsides, the waters blend with the sky.
Fragrant grasses grow, unfeeling, beyond the reach of the sun.
Su Mu Zhe, by Fan Zhongyuan
The tradition of Chinese landscape and scenic painting was primarily concerned with nature as an embodiment of feeling; this is art that is not only meant to be "seen," but to be "felt" as well. If poetry makes visualization possible because of its emotive content, then the content of a poem is like a painting. Painting is felt because of what we see, and this is what gives a painting its poetic content. In both poetry and painting in China, it was nature that became the vehicle for expression of the artist's thoughts and feelings. Thus Autumn Forest shares with Su Mu Zhe certain common points beyond the depiction of blue clouds, yellow leaves, jade mists, and slanting sunlight in the late afternoon. Both focus on a conception and a deeply felt lyricism which finds the artist "using an autumn scene to project an autumn feeling." Lin Fengmian's autumn forest scenes typically present wooded areas in the middle distance in bright, glowing colour; their outlines are not sketched in but are instead determined by the borders of Lin's colours. The scenic elements undergo a degree of geometric abstraction that tends to decrease the painting's depth of field, resulting in a flattened picture space that often gives these works a strongly modernistic feel. By contrast, a notable feature of Autumn Forest is its sense of depth. Only slight touches of colour are worked into the river, its sloping banks, and the sky, while perspective is presented simply through contrasts in the sizes of objects in the foreground or the distance, elongating the distance between foreground and background and deepening its spaces. Lin Fengmian rarely used a colour palette as cool as the one he employs here, which permeates his canvas with a feeling of emptiness and remoteness. As Northern Song painter Guo Xi said, "The feeling of the far distance should be diffuse and set in the mists." The empty spaces, implicit suggestions, distance, and depth of Autumn Forest all bring it into that "realm beyond the visible"; viewers can feel they are within that realm when they gaze beyond the near foreground toward the distance in the painting and their eyes move from its solid forms toward its deep, misty spaces.
As Lin Fengmian once observed, "Talking about art, one must talk about feeling, because art, fundamentally, is a product of feeling." While in the peaceful, unruffled scenic depiction of Autumn Forest we may not immediately sense explicit emotional communication, but the artist is concerned here, as always, with projecting feeling. Implicitly and effortlessly within his depiction of the external scenic forms, Lin projects a longing for his old home through his arrangement of the visual elements on the canvas. In his later years, Lin Fengmian noted,
I was born in a small village on the Meijiang River in Guangdong. Later, during my years of study in Europe, and my travels in the turbulent war years, my thoughts would often return to its drifting clouds and clear streams, and the expanses of pine forest and jade green bamboo outside our house.
Lin Fengmian moved about often during his youth and suffered bitter hardships during the Cultural Revolution period. In his later years he lived a solitary life in Hong Kong. During years of unfortunate rootlessness, he endured long periods without family companionship, which perhaps resulted in a feeling of alienation and homelessness. In Autumn Forest, a few simple dwellings do appear, but without a human figure to be seen anywhere. "Home" is clearly a moving notion, one that seems almost palpable here, yet at the same time, nearly out of reach. Putting aside the passage of the long years and any emotional tribulations they may have brought, Lin Fengmian constructs his own ideal world within the serene, quiet spaces of this landscape, and implicit within it are his cherished memories of home and desire for family.