PAINTINGS BY THE THREE MASTERS FROM THE CONGYUN XUAN COLLECTION (LOTS 1389-1403)
The term “Three Masters Crossing the Sea” first appeared in the public in 1993, when the National Museum of History in Taipei held the exhibition Three Masters Crossing the Sea to show the works of the three artists. All born at the end of 19th century, Huang Junbi, Zhang Daqian and Pu Ru are masters of Chinese modern ink paintings. They came from different family backgrounds, yet all of them left mainland China in 1949 and ended up in Taiwan due to the change of course of history. “Crossing the Sea” therefore not only means the shift in geographical location, but also symbolises a major cultural reconstruction when the three left their motherland for Taiwan and the world.
Five works from each artist were carefully selected for the sale from the Congyun Xuan Collection. The works span over a long period of time from before to after their migration, which greatly enriches the understanding of the stylistic changes and social interactions of the three artists. Ladies and Butterflies by Zhang Daqian, formerly the property of the Huang Junbi Collection is an extremely rare work from Zhang Daqian’s early period. One can trace the difference in his later figure paintings under the influence of the art of Dunhuang. Splashed-Ink Landscape and Splashed-Colour Lotus, both dedicated to He Haotian, the former Director of the National Museum of History, are also the finest works of the kind. They reflect Zhang Daqian’s deep association with arts and cultures. Also in the collection is Ink Lotus dedicated to Huang Junbi in the 1930s, which reflects the long-lasting friendship of the two artists. Amongst the works by Huang Junbi are some of his early fine-brushwork paintings of flowers and birds as well as his iconic landscape works after he crossed the sea. Returning Home is included in Collection of Paintings by Huang Junbi published by National Museum of History in 1974. Pu Ru’s works are combinations of paintings and calligraphy. His paintings exhibit the most elegant flair and the handscrolls are incredibly fine.
Congyun Xuan was founded by Chang Fu-Ying, a student of Huang Junbi. Named by Huang Junbi himself, it primarily collected Huang Junbi’s works and later incorporated works by the Three Masters and great artists such as Xu Beihong and Fu Baoshi. In 2011, the National Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei held a major exhibition on the Three Masters as a historical summary and commemoration of some of the greatest artistic treasures of our time. Most of the works were on display in this exhibition. We hope that the sale of this very important collection and other works by the three artists can inspire the appreciation of their artistry and reinvigorate the discussion on the Three Masters Crossing the Sea.
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The later splashed-colour works of Zhang Daqian in the 1980s are generally regarded to show the consummate skills and highest achievements of the artist. In his schematisation of the art of paintings, a balance between decorative mannerism and spiritual elevation remains his central concern. Because of his deep understanding of optics and perspectives, he was able to manipulate the viewer’s sight with meticulous movements and fluidity of light and shadow as well as fade and saturation of colours. Surrounded by an opulent abstraction of azurite and turquoise, the lotuses blossom with a heavenly glow.
The sublime aura permeating from the painting roots in Zhang’s early fascination with Buddhism and lotus, or Padma, which is a symbol for cosmic renewal and primordial purity. During his journey in 1941 to Dunhuang where he reached his major artistic breakthrough, he bought several lotus roots from the neighbouring city Lanzhou and attempted to grow them in Dunhuang to recreate the lush scenery of summer. Although the harsh climate of Dunhuang did not allow his horticultural plan to come into realisation, the journey kept inspiring Zhang’s future creation, particularly in terms of the use of colours. In contrast to the moderation and subtlety of colours in traditional ink paintings after the Song Dynasty, Zhang’s work inherits the dramatic profusion of colours in the paintings of the Tang Dynasty and reincarnates the mythical sensation into a modern form of ode to nature.