In the early twentieth century, with the cultural exchange between the East and West, China experienced different forms of conflicts, revolutions, struggles and innovations. Inspired by Western modernism, artists like Lin Fengmian had, with his impartial eye, rethought and reviewed the nature and spirit of Western and Chinese art, and further reconstructed the merits of his native traditional artistic system. Lin's innovation unleashed the posterity of the Chinese artists from the stagnant ink painting system, but also from the complete submission to Western art concepts. Lin's art, with its interlacing inktones, has a profoundly eclectic character comprising Western and Chinese art. Besides, the harmonious interplay of black and white, positive and negative, transparent and translucent colours sees the artist's extraordinary mastery of and the daring creativity in the traditional Chinese cultural spirit. Seascape (Boats) (Lot 1332), Flying Geese (Lot 1333) and Chrysanthemum (Lot 1331) showcased in this Day Sale exactly reflect the bounteous and diversified features of his mature ink paintings.
Lin said that "emotional expression is where the merit of Chinese art lies." Hence, despite having assimilated the strength of Western modern art, he also mastered the essence and spiritual dimension of Chinese culture. In landscapes he emphasized the spiritual experiences with nature. Rarely did he paint from life; instead, his artworks were created after studying and understanding nature, and with the support of the collected materials, recounted memories, and acquired artistry and experience in painting. Seascape (Boats) and Flying Geese have gone through this process of distillation, resulting in poetic pictures abounding in imaginative perceptions, and reflects the typical disposition of the Chinese literati. Flying Geese has a close-to-the-horizon composition, the stability of which is then injected with a sense of mobility and tension by the flying geese and rippling reeds. The overlapping layers of monochromatic ink and white powder fabricate a spacious setting and the vast and elevated sky, not only creating a sense of space but also enriching the undulating charm of the rhythmic feeling, justifiably poet Du Fu's line of "over the white sand and clear water the wild fowls soar." On the other hand, Seascape (Boats) shows another kind of communion of ink and colours. Lin had said that "Mi Fu could sense the kind of capricious change from the wind and rain, and darkness and brightness of nature." Seascape (Boats) has a misty effect resulting from the fusion of ink and cyanine; the featuring of climate change testifies the influence on Lin from Mi Fu. The contrast of "black water and white boat" further accentuates the subject, and the merely using lines to articulate the concise forms produces a condensed and concentrated visual energy.
The traditional Chinese literati bird-and-flower paintings always stressed the flavour and grace of a leisurely life; rarely was the vision of "mystery" seen. However, Lin managed to capture both in his Chinese and Western inspired still-life paintings. The Shuwen jiezi by Xu Shen of the Han dynasty states that "mystery means deep and distant; pictorially speaking, the radical is veiled, to signify the meaning of sequestered." Chrysanthemum has a nearly complete ink black background to highlight the chrysanthemums, initiating a breakthrough in the prevailing tradition of literati poetic paintings which stressed negative space. Here, Lin adopts the principle of "replacing black of white": In the black setting he depicts the white chrysanthemums and vase to make the viewers unable to grasp, except the illuminating subjects, the exact sense of space, thereby producing an unfathomable air in the picture. With the artist's virtuoso application of media, the white chrysanthemums, dark green branches and leaves, and the reflection on the vase against the dark black background, form multiple interweaving layers of shadows that produce a strikingly irregular charm of colour contrast, and further enhances the brightness of the meticulously depicted petals. The translucent white powder against the dark background seems to be emitting gleams of cool light, echoing with the deep and serene atmosphere evoked in the whole composition. Even in a succinct depiction of a still life we can see Lin's profound feelings and original perceptions of objects. By means of different sceneries and objects familiar to a Chinese audience, the blending of the essence of Eastern and Western art, and his intrinsic feelings and distinctive personal formal language, Lin had perpetuated the essential spirit of the long inherited traditional Chinese culture.