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2024 Spring Auctions > Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Lin Fengmian (1900-1991)
Still Life(Painted in 1959)

Ink and colour on paper

68.5 × 68.5 cm. 27 × 27 in.

Signed in Chinese with an artist seal on bottom left

1999, Lin Fengmian – Leader of Chinese Modernism Art, Asia Pacific Art Promotion Ltd., Taipei, p. 191
Important Private Collection, Asia

In Hues Diverse, the Sun Still Shimmer in One’s Heart
The Serenity and Determination of Lin Fengmian's Artistic Reverie

"Western paintings focus on nature, but if we trace back to the origins, Chinese paintings derive from nature. It must come from nature, from life."
——Lin Fengmian

Surveying the history of modern Chinese art, many artists have dedicated themselves to the exploration of East-West integration. Amid the societal and life upheavals, one relentless seeker of artistic spirit stands out as a pioneer of modernism – Lin Fengmian. Returning from France, he rooted himself in extracting the essence of traditional Chinese painting, craftsmanship, and folk art, while incorporating the Western techniques of light, shadow, and composition. After years of practice, he developed a distinctive visual system of form, colour, and line, along with a unique painting structure of "encircling the square". His works in three major themes – landscapes, figures, and still life – each radiates individual charm and artistic prowess.

Towards the Sun, Against the Tide

In the 1950s and 60s, China was amid the Great Leap Forward, yet Lin Fengmian did not drift along. He adhered to the pursuit of East-West fusion for the sake of art, becoming a pioneer in the study of Cubist theory in China. In the early 1950s, he resigned from the position of dean at the Hangzhou Art College and settled in the French Concession on Nanchang Road in Shanghai. Exploring irregular objects such as desks, windows, and vases indoors, he sought the order of lines and constructed a myriad of worlds on paper. Starting in the mid to late 1950s, he drew inspiration from household items, envisioning them in various settings. He produced a plethora of imaginative non-representational still life paintings, seamlessly blending Western Cubist expression with the free-spirited charm of Chinese painting. This marked the peak of his artistic maturity. And among his Cubist floral works, the depiction of "sunflowers" is particularly rare. Symbolizing warmth and courage, the sunflower mirrors Lin Fengmian’s resilient spirit. Although he painted sunflowers in various pieces throughout his life, only 47 artworks featuring sunflowers have appeared in auctions over the past 40 years. Among these, only nine have clear and traceable publication sources, with the majority created after the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Due to the artist’s extensive loss of works during the Cultural Revolution, surviving early works from before that period are exceedingly scarce. Among them, only five feature sunflowers as the main subject, with this presentation of Still Life being one of them. The remaining three are held in the collections of the Shanghai Chinese Painting Academy and the Shanghai Artists Association, underscoring the preciousness and exceptional importance of Still Life.

Vibrant Life, Harmonizing Motion and Stillness

"Why do I adopt square composition? It is the tradition of Chinese Song painting."
——Lin Fengmian

The artwork Still Life employs a balanced and symmetrical square paper composition, inheriting the tradition of Song painting but infused with Western perspectives and colours. This reflects Lin Fengmian’s transformation, with the composition revealing infinite variations of shapes, combining circles and squares ingeniously. Using a single-point perspective, he depicts a simple flowerpot containing vibrant sunflowers and a spherical glass fish tank. Occupying two-thirds of the canvas, one elevated and the other placed lower, they rest on a table covered with a square cloth. The square table, trapezoidal flowerpot, the background window shutters, and a small vase echo each other harmoniously. Circular forms, seen in the fish tank and sunflower centres, bring dynamism and vitality to the composition. Lin skillfully uses arcs to outline the swimming goldfish and aquatic plants, leaving white spaces in the basin to echo the skylight, showcasing the dynamic trajectory of light. The flowers, painted in heavy, star-like strokes, bloom with grace. The artwork achieves a perfect balance between motion and stillness, square and circle, light and shadow, exuding a firm sense of power.

Ink that Echoes, Resilient Vitality

"Although Lin Fengmian studied in France, his achievements in painting were not about promoting European art; instead, he rediscovered the vitality of Chinese painting from the perspective of European painting. Before him, no painter had reached the heights he achieved on this path."
——Shui Tianzhong

Lin Fengmian masterfully employs dark colours as the foundation, with this piece predominantly blending ink tones with cobalt blue as the main colour. Gradually introducing cold tones such as indigo, wine red, and ink green, the colours are subtle yet rich in variation. The fusion of ink and colour creates a seamless integration, not explicitly emphasizing light and shadow. The overlapping shades of blue and black create a sense of depth, allowing warm sunlight to pierce through the deep blue, while the rich yellow of the sunflowers bursts forth amidst the dark green leaves. The petals, with an upward motion, concentrate the light source, hinting at the sunflower’s tenacious growth in the darkness. The red and blue fish in the pot and the delicate yellow flowers in front of the window contrast with the exuberant vitality of the sunflowers and fish, representing different forms of life – resilience and tranquillity coexist. The fusion of watercolour and ink, like a perfect blend of East and West, highlights the understated elegance of the artwork.

Ai Qing once described Lin Fengmian: "His consciousness penetrates his thoughts. He paints flowers and still life, but they cannot be viewed like ordinary still life paintings; his paintings have depth." Despite the twists of fate, Lin Fengmian, ever humble and resilient, infused the unwavering vitality of sunflowers into his ink, leading a revolutionary transformation in Chinese painting – a testament to life’s enduring spirit for all to contemplate.

Price estimate:
HKD: 1,000,000 - 2,000,000
USD: 127,700 - 255,400

Auction Result:
HKD: 1,200,000



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