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

Tang Yunyu (1906 – 1992)
Study Group

Oil on canvas

80.5 × 100 cm. 31 3/4 × 39 3/8 in.

Acquired directly by original private Asian collector from the artist’s family
3 Dec 2006, Jiatai Shanghai Autumn Auction, Lot 1092
Acquired directly by present private Asian collector from the above

Creating Images for a New China
Tang Yunyu’s Rare and Large-Scale Oil Paintings 

Born in 1906 in Jiangsu, Wujiang Provence, Tang Yunyu studied Western Painting at Shanghai Shenzhou Women College in 1920. Upon graduation, Tang resided in Shanghai. At a young age of 20, Tang’s artistic practice flourished rapidly, to which  she established her own solo exhibition at 22 years old. Paintings such as Street of Suzhou, Tiger’s Nest, and Still Life were nominated at The First National Exhibition of Fine Arts. In addition, Women of China magazine even praised Tang’s art as that of the iconic Pan Yuliang.

Tang Yunyu’s involvement in the arts extended to her commitment to The Painting Research Institute, a Western Non-profit organization. In her published article titled Sense of Propriety, Tang discussed and reflected the ideology and impact of Western Art. Her pioneering methodology and reflection not only fostered her reputation and success in China, but also on a global scale. In 1926, Tang arrived in Tokyo, Japan as a Jiangsu province representative to study art education and methodology, to which one of her paintings was selected to exhibit at The Tokyo Exhibition. Following, Tang traveled to Paris and enrolled at École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Her prolific works were selected for the Spring Salon, the Fall Salon, and the Duloré Salon, which is a strong testament to her excellence early on.

Across the history of Chinese Contemporary Art, only a handful of artists, including Tang, had academic training and background from Japan and Europe. Indeed, foundational study of abstraction and layered brushwork of Impressionism enriched Tang Yunyu’s visual vocabulary and developed her idiosyncratic style and palette. Soon, the integration of Eastern and Western training is pivotal to her refreshing and renowned signature.

In 1947, The Sun, one of the largest Commercial company in Shanghai organized many solo exhibitions, to which artist such as Guan Liang, Li Tiefu, and Zao Wou-Ki each held solo exhibition, later followed by Tang Yunyu’s Oil Painting Exhibition in May of that year. Exhibiting over 100 works, the site was fully packed with a strong ambience. Such a great turnout was a clear indication of the influence and success of Tang Yunyu’s status in the art world.

A Celebration of Socialism through Art

Looking at Tang Yunyu’s prolific oeuvre, landscape and flowers are constant motifs in her collection of works. Vibrant colours and detailed composition represents a close-knitted community with human interactions, characteristic and personality. In spirited sceneries, the abundance of flowers and landscape even mimics the lively interaction of group portraitures as well. These dynamic paintings of community representation are indeed a reflection of a new society, a New China specifically, after the rise of the Chinese Revolution in the 50’s. As historical provenance reflected a mere 4 paintings at site, each painting is an excellent collection opportunity. As record shows, artworks titled Classroom, Leisure Farming, Study Group (Lot 61) and Moving the Rocks (Lot 62) are listed in her oeuvre. The latter two will be auctioned in our upcoming season, with an inclusion of collection provenance from the artist estate collection. Amongst the four, Study Group is the largest oil painting by Tang. In a soft colour palette, the artist painted rosy-pink individuals in realistic scenery. The short and layered brushwork illustrates a huddled group around the desk, with two individuals by the right admiring a loose brushwork painting. As a whole, the busy environment further emphasized the integration of Impressionism and Romanticism. The overall warm hues and blended community supports Tang’s elegant and consistent style, and surely became an iconic painting of Tang Yunyu collection, to which the artist gracefully transforms Chinese Art history by expressing her words and thoughts through art itself. Another iconic work of Tang, Moving the Rocks, completed in 1951 depicts a realistic farm life. With a man carrying rocks as the protagonist, the painting introduces the integration of Chinese and Western methodology of painting. On the lower right, it is signed "Yun" and dated. This indicates the value and importance of the piece. In addition, on the verso of the painting is labeled "The National Art Exhibition of East China". This important exhibition label not only represents the value and rarity of the work being selected for the National Art Exhibition, but also Tang Yunyu’s talent and recognition since the early rise of her artistic journey.

Learning by Doing - the Forefront of the Young Era
Study Group, the Largest Oil Painting by Tang Yunyu

The methodology and development of Western Art has always been a strong influence in Tang Yunyu’s artistic journey. Under its influence, Tang’s expression entails foundational groundwork seen in Impressionism, with tones of Romanticism in portraying emotions and gestures. While study of the West was fundamental to her development, she also paid close attention to the integration of Chinese Contemporary Art in the West. The study and balance of the two cultures colliding on canvases offers a smooth combination of brushworks, a refreshing composition and colour palette. As seen in Study Group, the large scale painting utilizes a group of youngsters as the protagonists. They stand around the desk, with the individual seated at the desk writing in concentration becomes a sight of focus. All gazing at the individual with patience, the scenery provides context of a thirst for knowledge and the desire for mutual learning. With 8 individuals in sight, 4 men and 4 women, Tang positions them in the front, middle and back, with the woman writing as the centre. On the left, the young male with red scarf holds a small book, while the young woman in a pink dress gazes at it attentively. Opposite this pair are two other young women, with their backs to the viewers. Their gesture suggests a lively discussion that entails the enthusiasm of learning. As this painting signifies the transformative period of the rise of the gender equality, it is noted through the consistent hairstyle of the women, in short, ear-length hairstyle. Meanwhile, women’s long shirts and trousers like men demonstrates the artist’s concern for an appropriate way to depict contemporary in society through her range of characters. In Study Group, the inclusion of interior and exterior landscape is skillfully presented. Railings by the left shows several young men under the morning light, a symbolic sign of valued academic quantities. Acting as a lookout, the viewers attention also points to the red flag flying in the skyline, an indication and connection between learning and patriotism.

In addition, on the right side of the work, two other young men can be seen intently looking at a painting on the wall. This droste effect illustrated in Tang Yunyu’s work signifies her appropriation of a mise en scene technique, which reflects a wise visual and ideology of  "a painting within a painting". Indeed, the style conveys Cézanne’s Post-Impressionism, depicting a life of farming and labour, with the strong realism of Jean-François Millet’s The Sower. The painting not only incorporates Impressionism’s iconoclasm of light in paintings, but also presents "paintings within paintings" with a tendency to three-dimensional geometry, coupled with the realistic tone of "learning by doing", as well as the spirit of awakening of the mind. The combination of these pioneering ideologies clearly shows Tang Yunyu’s superior and seamless integration of Chinese and Western modern art.

The Spirit of Labour in Day and Night
Moving the Rocks - an Homage to Realism

Completed in 1951, Moving the Rocks takes the social context and mundane task of construction as its motif. Through a simple task of moving stones, the protagonist in the foreground signifies a two-folded meaning at hand. First, it pays homage to Gustave Courbet’s The Stone Breakers, the first works of Realism in the history of Western art. Second, the labour and hardworking spirit of the workers can be seen as a Realist proposition of making statues for the New China. In comparison with Coubet’s stone carriers, Moving the Rocks illustrates a vertical composition. With a singular point of focus, it shows an imagery of rock carriers as upright, hardworking men. From the protagonist’s clothes and visual cues, it infers the man as someone who works at a factory. By the left, Tang positions 2 resting quarrymen, which implies the protagonist is not subjected to the oppression of the landlord class like the past indicates. In this New China, the protagonist, a young man, rolls up his sleeves and holds a bamboo basket full of broken stones. His body forms a stable gesture against the form of the basket. These objects and lines emphasize Tang’s effort in using geometric shapes to create an illusion of a muscular man at sight. Presenting as a hard-worker, the heavy weight of the stones in the bamboo basket conveys the serious commitment of the young man. In the background, hints of blue in the sky suggest a dusty environment of the mining area, which adds to the realistic ambience of real life. In areas of white, grey tones can be seen as undertones, which hints at Tang’s distinctive subtle and restrained temperament. She longs for actual freedom, which is highlighted by light radiating from the left. As a whole scenery, the labourers’ day and night efforts, diligence, and earnestness are key representations of a New China, a celebration and prediction of a strong and revolutionary nation!

Price estimate:
HKD: 300,000 – 400,000
USD: 38,300 - 51,100

Auction Result:
HKD: 360,000



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