Born in Guangzhou in 1906, Chen Wen Hsi was determined to pursue his love for art from a young age. The heart of the Chinese art scene lay east in Shanghai, so the young Chen pooled together his savings for a one-way ticket there. He spent four years at the Xinhua Academy, where his teachers included Pan Tien Shou, and graduated with a degree in fine art.
By the 1930s, Chen was not only teaching art in Chaozhou, but had become an established painter himself. In the 40s, while travelling through Southeast Asia, Chen became enamoured with Western modern painters such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and Joan Mir. Chen noted how they echoed the forceful, self-expressive, and semi-abstract style of the great late Ming painter-recluse, Bada Shanren.
The present lot Herons depicts a recurring theme which Chen became fascinated with all through the later part of his life, of a group of herons moving quietly through a lake. This variation utilises the classical Chinese brush and ink on paper, but with a western, abstract twist; as the interlocking brushstrokes fill the spatial plane of the work with sudden directional changes, drawing the eye upwards and downwards, creating a sense of movement. The painting is organic and fluid; yet it possesses a subtle ambiguity that conveys the essence of the birds, and subliminally, that of the artist as well.