Chronology : 1000-1150 14th century 19th century 1880-1889 1888 1889 1890-1899 1890 20th century 1920-1929 1925 1955 1970-1979 1972
Northern Song - The Tree of the Calligrapher
2018 SOLD for HK$ 460M including premium
In 1071 CE, Su Shi had been expelled from the capital, starting at the age of 34 a second career as a provincial servant with increasingly mediocre missions despite his immense talent. He died in 1101. His younger friend Mi Fu escaped political persecution by his reputation for eccentricity. They were the two best calligraphers in their lifetime.
A nine-character autograph message on a 28 x 9.5 cm sheet sent by Su Shi to the governor of a locality that he was leaving was sold for $ 8.2M including premium by Sotheby's on September 19, 2013.
Graphic art is exceptional in their works. The movement of the artist's hand is the same as for calligraphy. The rare drawings by Su Shi translate emotions too deep to be expressed in words. Mi Fu will only paint in the last years of his life, mostly after Su Shi's death.
On November 26 in Hong Kong, Christie's sells as lot 8008 a 26 x 50 cm ink on paper painted by Su Shi. This piece is extended by many colophons including an appreciation calligraphed by Mi Fu, and includes many seals. Please watch two videos shared by the auction house.
The image consists of two elements that join together : a leafless tree twisted into several undulations and a bulky rock. The dryness of the tree expresses the desolation of the artist in his exile while at the opposite edge on the left flank of the rock the sparse bamboos bring the hope of a new vitality.
1350 The Story of Ge Hong
2011 SOLD for RMB 400M including premium by Poly
narrated in 2020
On June 4, 2011, Poly sold for RMB 400M including premium a hanging scroll painted in ink and wash circa 1350 CE by Wang Meng on the theme of the migration of Ge Hong to the sacred mountains. The provenance of this artwork has been established over six centuries. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
Born into a family of artists, Wang Meng is considered as one of the four literati masters of the Yuan dynasty. His graphic style is very dense, with the energy of a calligrapher.
Ge Hong, also named Ge Zhichuan, lived 1000 years before Wang in the Eastern Jin dynasty. Nicknamed the Little Immortal Old Man, he was an alchemist, a doctor and above all a Taoist master. He was going to study the secrets of immortality in the Luofu mountains. He stayed there for eight years. The image by Wang shows Ge and his suite passing through a valley under a very rocky landscape. Seven poems have been added.
The Palace Museum in Beijing has a 139 x 58 cm scroll by the same artist on the same theme, dated around 1360, with another landscape in an oblique perspective, showing in the best Chinese graphic tradition the smallness of a great sage in the immense nature.
1888 The Studio of the South
2015 SOLD for $ 66M including premium
He moved to the maison jaune where he wanted to create a community of artists named by him L'Atelier du Midi. Paul Gauguin arrived as his first guest on 23 October.
A period of fine weather, from October 29 to November 2, allows a first outdoor session. The two artists set their easels in the Alyscamps dominated by the bright yellow of the autumn leaves.
They must come to some understanding. Two of van Gogh paintings include forms within sharp outlines that could appeal to Gauguin. Their very different conceptions of artistic creation begin however to oppose the two artists from that first trials. Gauguin is a cerebral man for whom the achievement must be consistent with the original design, van Gogh is an impulsive wishing that the spontaneous gesture contributes to the artwork.
On May 5 in New York, Sotheby's sells a view of the Alyscamps painted on November 1, 1888, oil on canvas 92 x 74 cm, lot 18. The press release of April 13 is expecting a price in excess of $ 40M.
The composition is geometric, with its perspective view of the allée of trees. The contrast between the warm colors of soil and trees and the cold blue sky make this van Gogh painting resolutely away from the flat colors of Gauguin. The expression is enhanced by the rich shades of the palette. This painting contains the elements that will generate misunderstanding and estrangement between the two great artists.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's. Its image is also shared by Wikimedia.
1889 The Field beyond the Window
2017 SOLD for $ 81M including premium
On June 18, Vincent paints La Nuit étoilée in which the stars are transformed into whirlwinds of fire. Anxious about the loss of control of his mental health, Vincent believes being appeased by the energy of his hallucination. Doctors fear another major crisis. They are right : it happens in mid-July.
Supervised by the doctors, Vincent does not paint during his crises. He takes his brushes again in the last days of August. The window of his room looks to the east. The sun rising above the wheat field is blinding and hypnotic, and also reveals the bright colors that constitute the soil. The colors are intermingled like swirls, scars and tongues of fire with an extreme violence.
This oil on canvas 50 x 65 cm is titled Laboureur dans un champ. The man, the horse and the plow in mid-distance against the light offer a new opus of the favorite theme of Vincent's career, a result of his lifelong empathy with the soil workers.
Healing through hard work that released his impulses was only an illusion but it produced unprecedented masterpieces. The next crisis comes in December.
Laboureur dans un champ will be sold as lot 28 A by Christie's in New York on November 13. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. The image below is shared by Wikimedia.
1889 Threats on Arles
2015 SOLD for $ 54M including premium
His mental health had always been fragile. The tension in his relationship with Gauguin rushed his delirious crises requiring his internment in psychiatric hospitals. His anguished questioning about the unknown cause of his illness worsens his condition. He cannot work during his crises.
On November 5 in New York, Sotheby's sells Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé, oil on canvas 60 x 74 cm, lot 14 estimated $ 50M. This artwork was made in mid-April 1889 within a very short period of lull that allowed him again to paint outdoors. This insignificant countryside surrounding Arles cannot be located with more accuracy.
That new spring looked very different to him from that of the previous year. The flowery meadow that occupies the foreground is not welcoming although a little character is coming to pick flowers. It is well lit but not sunny. The trees are twisted off by the wind.
The clouds are processed in a thick impasto involving all shades of gray, with a great violence that anticipates the whirlpools in the starry sky of the following months. This tormented painting is already attesting the fatal drift of his genius into dementia.
1890 Between Harvest and Snow
2019 SOLD for $ 110M including premium
Monet loves this theme that is typical of country life without the need to add humans or birds. He begins with five landscapes in which two haystacks are distant from each other.
According to the sequence established by Wildenstein, the next sub-series is composed of two oil paintings on canvas 73 x 93 cm executed during the autumn of 1890. The alignment of two haystacks leads to the tall trees on the horizon, against the light in the last rays of sunset. For the first time the rest of the image is minimized. The predominance of the expression of colors over theme and form opens the way to modern art.
The second of these pictures, W1273, goes even further by managing to avoid the shadows of the two stacks. All that remains is the light that plays with the contours of stacks and trees and reveals the shimmering colors of the field. It was dated 1891 by the artist, certainly by reference to the year of the first public exhibition of the series, in the gallery of Durand-Ruel.
W1273 will be sold by Sotheby's in New York on May 14, lot 8. The March 15 press release announces an estimate in excess of $ 55M. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
The deep nature of a landscape can no longer be expressed by a single snapshot. In this series which ends in January 1891 and totals 25 paintings, Monet has captured 25 moments of light of a wide variety : morning, evening, full sun, snow, mist. In the last pictures the color also comes to sublimate the perspective with the reduction of the theme to a single haystack. Also taken at sunset, W1290 was sold for $ 81M including premium by Christie's on November 16, 2016.
An enduring symbol of Impressionism from Claude Monet's iconic Haystacks series will lead an important private collection of 8 Impressionist works on offer in #SothebysImpMod Evening Sale on 14 May in #NYC. Learn more: https://t.co/B4xVl8QWFA pic.twitter.com/SMDorfOowE— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) March 15, 2019
1891 A Stack in Winter
2016 SOLD for $ 81M including premium
He had been very active throughout that period. His paintings of the Gare St Lazare in 1877 constituted a series that displayed the variations in color depending on the intensity of sunlight and on the thickness of smoke from the trains. His solitary travel in Normandy in 1882 for comforting after the death of Camille is very important : Monet demonstrates to himself that lighting is better than topography for expressing a mood.
When comes the end of summer 1890 Monet is ready for a new experience. The vegetation will disappear with winter. As for every year the grain stacks will remain alone in the middle of the fields until the wheat threshing of the spring. They will be the perfect support for Monet to perform his observations of colors through all weather conditions and at all moments of time. This series totaled 25 paintings.
Three of them have been specifically grouped as a ultimate achievement of the Meules in the catalogue raisonné prepared by Daniel Wildenstein. Only one stack is visible in front of a retracted landscape. It is truncated either from top or from one side. The color emotion is not challenged by that figurative feature reduced to nothing more than a bulky triangle. In 1896, in front of one of these paintings, Kandinsky was dazzled.
Another Meule from that group of three, oil on canvas 73 x 92 cm painted in 1891, reference Wildenstein 1290, was sold for $ 12M including premium by Sotheby's on 11 May 1999. It is now for sale by Christie's in New York on November 16, lot 9 B. The targeted price was disclosed at around $ 45M by the specialized press.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's. The image below is shared by Wikimedia.
1925 Twelve Landscapes by Qi Baishi
2017 SOLD for RMB 930M including premium by Poly
narrated in 2020
Born in Hunan province into a family of poor peasants, Qi Baishi was self-taught. Settled in Beijing at the age of 53 in 1917, he drew inspiration from Bada Shanren to develop a vigorous and spontaneous line, reaching poetry through a free realism. His greatest innovation is the use of inks in very bright colors.
His themes are varied while being ordinary and peaceful : landscapes, trees, countless small things. He paints according to his own observations, is not interested in symbols and allegories and does not follow Bada Shanren in the rebellion. Far away from politics, he will never be threatened.
On December 17, 2017, Poly sold in Beijing for RMB 930M including premium, worth US $ 144M at that time, a monumental suite of twelve screens 180 x 47 cm each. They were painted by Qi in 1925 in light blue, gray, brown and pink on the theme of mountains, villages and blossoming trees.
This result rewards a major work from the seminal period of modern Chinese art of which Qi was one of the greatest influencers. It is to date (2020) the highest price recorded at auction outside New York and the highest price for Chinese art.
The twelve panels are illustrated side by side in the CTV News article announcing their display at the Poly Culture Art Center in Vancouver in October 2017 with an estimate of US $ 100M.
There is only one other similar set by Qi. Painted in 1932, it is kept in a museum in Chongqing.
1955 The Ultimate Ink of Huang Binhong
2017 SOLD for RMB 345M including premium
Native from Zhejiang province, Huang Binhong had many passions centered on letters and ancient arts including calligraphy. He collected and carved seals, practiced fencing and played guqin. He made drawings since his youth and his favorite theme was the sublime Huangshan mountains which he visited nine times from 1883 to 1935.
Huang worked as an editor and illustrator and also as an art professor. In 1948, aged 85, he settled in Hangzhou where his teaching activity certainly left him more free time. It was from that point that he perfected the art of landscape.
He no longer travels in the mountains and works with memory and imagination, favoring the expression instead of the realism. Like the greatest masters, he does not need a preparatory drawing and does not erase. His full mastery of the width of the line generates superb contrasts enhanced by a skillful use of the voids to show mist and brook. The density of the lines reminds the Dürer hare and the overall composition is well balanced.
Huang had the nice practice of dating some of his works by his age. A view in Huangshan is dated to his 92 years, corresponding to 1955 just before his death. This 171 x 96 cm scroll is estimated RMB 80M for sale by China Guardian in Beijing on June 19, lot 706.
Another scenery realized in the same year, 178 x 74 cm, was sold for RMB 63M including premium by China Guardian on May 18, 2014. It remembers the emotion of the artist comparing in an earlier trip the real view of the mountain with its interpretation by an artist of the Yuan period. The lower estimate that had been announced at RMB 12M attests a posteriori that the extreme quality of the ultimate art of Huang was rediscovered at that sale.
1972 A Nest for Two Boys
2018 SOLD for $ 90M including premium
David sees by chance on the floor of his studio the conjunction of two photographs that can constitute a scene : a swimmer under water and a standing boy watching something in the distance. The relationship between two men has always been one of his favorite themes. He has just found a way to express his affair with Peter.
It is not so easy for this hypersensitive artist. He destroys a first version. The sudden break between the lovers occurs around that time. In the spring of 1972 David leaves with two assistants to take photographs in a house of director Tony Richardson named Le Nid du Duc in the countryside above Saint-Tropez. During the summer of 1969 David and Peter had spent a few happy days at that place.
A photograph of the swimmer suits him. It will not be a self-portrait in the picture. For the properly dressed observer who will be standing up by the pool, he finds in his archives some photographs of the real Peter, as if David now agreed to entrust Peter to an unidentifiable swimmer.
The acrylic on canvas 213 x 305 cm painted in 1972 is titled Portrait of an Artist and subtitled Pool with Two Figures. The swimmer is under water and Peter is at the edge of the pool. Although Peter's gaze is directed towards the swimmer, communication between them is impossible.
In 1974 a biopic titled A Bigger Splash tells the story of the breaking up of David and Peter. David plays his own role. The film incorporates sequences that had been shot during the preparation of the Portrait of an Artist. The mix of emotion and real intimacy makes A Bigger Splash a cult film of the gay communities, to the point of shocking David himself. He will change his mind later.
This painting will be sold by Christie's in New York on November 15 as lot 9 C. The press release of September 13 announces an estimate in the region of $ 80M. Please watch the video prepared by the auction house including sequences from the movie.
The low resolution image is shared by Wikimedia for fair use.