Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2023 Spring Auctions > Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Xu Beihong (1895-1953)
Nude from the Back (Diptych)

Pencil on paper

30 × 17 cm. (left piece); 33 × 20 cm. (right piece) 11 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (left piece); 13 × 7 7/8 in. (right piece)

Signed in French on bottom left of the left piece; signed in Chinese on bottom right of the right piece
Private Collection, Asia
3 Oct 2011, Sotheby’s Hong Kong Autumn Auctions, Lot 709
Acquired directly by present important private Asian collector from the above

Delicate Light and Shadow, for Charm and Grace
Xu Beihong’s Nude from the Back

“The first step in the study of painting is sketch, which is our basic knowledge and the only way to express in painting.”
——Xu Beihong 

Xu Beihong is an educator and the father of modern Chinese art. He is an advocate of improving modern Chinese art through the integration of western sketch-based realism. Born in Yixing, Jiangsu, in 1895, Xu Beihong studied painting with his father, Xu Dazhang. At the age of nine, he already showed his extraordinary ability to capture the characters’ features in drawing. In 1916, he was invited by Meiji University as a lecturer to teach painting and visited Japan the following year. In 1918, he returned to China and engaged in the New Culture Movement, during which he promoted his attitude towards Chinese and Western arts: “take the essence and discard the dregs”. In 1919, with the support from Cai Yuanpei, he went to France to study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied sketch under the French master Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret. “Sketch” became not only the basis of many of his oil paintings but also his independent artistic expression, and the technique accompanied him throughout his life. After returning to China in 1925, Xu Beihong, as the head of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, set a strict two-year sketch training programme for all his students, reflecting his emphasis on sketch. 

Jade-like Bone and Ice-like Skin, Graceful and Implict

The artwork Nude from the Back (Diptych) is one of Xu Beihong’s best sketches of female body. Figures in the painting are depicted from the back, and he represents the difference between their emotions by elaborately stylistic changes. The woman in the left plane has cloud-like hair, which is neatly coiffed, and her left knee is slightly bent, with her left hand stretching forward. Seemingly she is gazing thoughtfully at the lines left by the years in her palm, indicating her elegant and soft physique as well as delicate and sensitive thoughts. On the country, the woman on the right seems to have just awakened, with black hair loosely tied in a bundle and her right hand raised to stroke the hair, showing her evenly proportioned muscles of arms and the naturally extended curves of the chest and abdomen. Her thighs reveal a solid sense of strength, breaking the fixed painting paradigm of femininity and slenderness in Chinese paintings at that time. The two beauties, each in their own way, represent the confident beauty of the natural human body. 

Xu Beihong’s precise mastery of the human body structure is evident in the two paintings. The scapulae, hips and joints of the limbs of the characters are depicted clearly with colour absence, the natural extension of the muscular curves of their backs and legs are outlined by the delicate grey tones in a detailed and appropriate manner, and rounded and voluminous bodies are shaped by heavy black strokes. Xu’s sketches of the human body not only achieve stylistic accuracy but also vividly reveal the inner mood, demeanour and elegant oriental charm of the subjects depicted, echoing his innovation of using Western realistic sketches to show the modern Chinese temperament.

Price estimate:
HKD: 300,000 –400,000
USD: 38,200 – 51,000

Auction Result:
HKD: --



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