FROM A PRIVATE NORTH AMERICAN COLLECTION (LOT 1089)
Post Lot Text
Recovering Treasures: From Private Overseas Collections Jiang Zhaohe’s Happy New Year and Old Man (LOTS 1088-1089)
Celebrated for his veristic figure paintings reflecting profound humanitarianism, Jiang Zhaohe extended exceptional compassion to the neglected during wartime in the 1930s and 40s. Acquainted with few kindred spirits who enjoyed his fusion of Chinese and Western artistic styles, Jiang prefaced “there are few who know or love me; only the poor knows me and only the famished do I sympathise” in the first volume of Portrait Paintings of Chiang Chao-Ho in 1941. In truth, Jiang was well liked by the foreign nationals in China; and as many of his works left the country with his patrons, Jiang’s oeuvre was temporarily believed to be forever lost.
Fortunately, in recent decades, as Jiang’s artistic legacy gains momentum among art historians, more and more purportedly-lost works have emerged in public exhibitions and academic publications especially overseas. Prompting great enthusiasm among the academic and collection circles, Christie’s is honoured to present two treasured works from Jiang Zhaohe’s first publication from the 1940s.
Happy New Year comes from the family collection of Mr Matthew Keating (1917-1994). A senior personnel at the Royal Dutch Shell, Keating was stationed in China for over a decade, during which he met Jiang and acquired a few works. Keating left China after the 50s and as a parting gift and a token of an intercontinental friendship, Jiang presented him with a personal portrait. Happy New Year has since been displayed at many Jiang Zhaohe exhibitions overseas, while a reproduction was exhibited at the National Museum Exhibition in 2014. This occasion at Christie’s marks the painting’s first appearance in Asia after its departure from China 70 years ago.
The finest of Jiang’s portraits, Happy New Year is the first painting featured in Portrait Paintings of Chiang Chao-Ho. Portraying a young girl in Beijing during the Republic of China period, the painting shows her in a festive red cheongsam and in a New Year’s greeting pose. In the inscription, consistent with his humanitarian principles, Jiang recounts many war-induced sufferings, but also expresses his hope for a better future. Composed and gentle, the young girl, too, imparts optimism and promise. Different from his figure paintings with downcast subjects, Happy New Year stands to be the most representative of Jiang’s humane disposition in the turbulent era.
Presented from the collection of former American military officer George F. Dales (1927-1992), Old Man epitomises Jiang’s proclivity for painting the elderly. Stationed in China with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1945 to 1948, Dales acquired Old Man and also had his portrait rendered by Jiang. Dales later earned his Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania in 1960 and was an archaeology professor at University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley. Depicting an Old Man whose looks, from matted beard to hollow cheeks, spoke volumes, Jiang shows respect for his crossed-arms, hunched-over subject. As with Old Couple from Christie’s 2018 Spring Auctions, Jiang employs the Western treatment of light and shadow, thereby yielding meticulous detail and profound depth in his ink paintings.
Comparable to finding shining pearls in the expansive sea, Christie’s offering of Happy New Year and Old Man surely furthers interest in Jiang Zhaohe’s early artistic creations, to the benefit of scholars and collectors.