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Thursday, April 7, 2016, 08:52

Bidding for variety

By Chitralekha Basu

Bidding for variety
The Sleeping Venus at Sotheby’s illustrates the range of Xu Beihong.

The more, the merrier

But then more of the same isn’t a bad thing per se. While two artworks by the same artist produced during the same period in his career might share similar features, they can hardly ever be replicas of each other. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s previewed watery landscapes by Claude Monet from phases well before the Impressionist master started painting the generic water-lilies. Conor Jordan, deputy chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s New York, drew attention to the artist’s “general fascination with the surrounding garden and the play of light, and the projection of the silvery sky on the water” while introducing La Petit Gennevilliers , painted in 1874.

David Norman, vice-chairman of Sotheby’s Americas, on the other hand, spoke eloquently about the painter’s urge to capture “nature in its raw state” when he introduced Marée Basse Aux Petites-Dalles , painted in 1884 and informed by a similar freedom of spirit. “When he paints the cliffs, the brushstrokes are traveling upwards to catch the light. When we see the reflection of the light on the water he changes the direction of the brushstrokes, horizontally,” Norman said, drawing attention to “the interplay between the hot yellow red colors and the very cool blue colors”.

Similarly, while Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Poly Auction Hong Kong are all showcasing works by Xu Beihong in a big way this season, their offerings are distinctly different from each other in tone and tenor. Christie’s has lined up a painting of the Himalayas, combining elements of realism and impressionism, drawn by Xu during his trip to India in the 1930s. Poly Auction Hong Kong presented a typical classical Chinese hanging scroll, Rooster and Bamboo , done in ink and color on paper. Sotheby’s has put up a reclining nude, The Sleeping Venus , which brings to mind the sensuous and exuberant, hedonistic paintings of Peter Paul Rubens and Jean Honore Fragonard, quite unlike in temperament to the Chinese ink paintings of horses and birds Xu is commonly associated with.

Christie’s is showcasing works in oil on paper by Zhang Xiaogang from 1989, which are nothing like his generic monochromatic, stylized family portraits. “Historically this series is important as it belongs in a stage when Chinese artists are getting mature and expressing strong ideas in terms of choosing the medium as well as the subject matter,” says Marcello Kwan, senior specialist head of sale at Asian Contemporary Art, Christie’s.

Bidding for variety
The Rooster and Bamboo at Poly Auction illustrates the range of Xu Beihong.

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