Showcasing between May 23rd to the 27th, Bonhams, the world's largest connoisseur auction house of fine art and antiques, presents a collection of pieces at one of Hong Kong's finest hotels, the Shangri-La . Founded in 1793, Bonhams specialises in 57 areas across twenty-five countries. With a variety of works displayed including best-selling Chinese 'snuff' bottles, magnificent Jadeite and diamonds, exceptional classical chinese paintings, contemporary asian art, fine liquors and modern wristwatches such as quintessential Patek Philippe; the most impressive display was without a doubt a collection of paintings entitles Voyages of Discovery.
Featuring 12 exquisite rare Imperial Chinese antiques alongside 15 spectacular paintings by Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki, the unique array of master works exhibits a complementing contrast of the modern against the historic. Privately owned by a single Portugese owner, the pieces bring together aesthetic brilliance with historical significance.
Housed in a grand ballroom decked out in white and gold, stands an awe-inspiring cloisonnÃ©-enameled incense burner and cover, sister to one of only two pieces, the other displayed at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. One of many valuable objects and originating from the Qing Dynasty, the rare gilt-bronze burner stands out in a captivating blue strongly reminiscent of lapis lazuli, a pigment commonly used in Western art, mainly fresco paintings. Held up by two figures dressed in long robes and a headdress, each kneels on one knee, elevating the elongated box decorated in colorfully enameled lotus blossoms. Topped by a gold Buddhist lion complete with dextrous renditioning of fine fur, the incense burner comes to life, making the auspicious shou characters and dragon chasing flaming pearls all the more prominent. Enlivened by way of various colors and animated figures, this antique is one not to be missed.
With high ceilings to boot, viewers interact with both traditional and modern pieces at an intimate level. Displayed along white walls, atmospheric paintings by two leading Chinese artists give way to a breathtaking experience. Brought up in China in the 1900's, both painters remain deeply grounded in their cultural heritage and beliefs, taking it with them in their life-changing travel far and wide to Paris. In search of the city's artistic milieu, the creative lifestyle of post-war Paris gave birth to the expressive painterly style of Chu The-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki.
Each independently making their way to the world's artistic capital in the 1950's, both painters share great similarities in achievements, receiving outstanding awards and both graduating to an election of the Academie Francais des Beaux-Arts.
An assembly of abstract works, the paintings exude an aura of alluring beauty of the senses. Working with earthly elements, the artists chose to work with two of the most transient qualities: wind or more wholly known as air and water. Seen as a freedom of expression Chu Teh-Chun's move from figurative to abstract was an enlightened one. He expressed in the Asian Art Newspaper that it creates more of a challenge "by removing the aspect of form, the entire process immediately becomes more demanding."
In L'Odeur du Ciel No.1 (1982), literally translated as 'the scent of the sky', Chu creates a challenge for himself, conjuring up the question of 'how to paint the scent of the sky?' To which he responds with stunning visuals. The painting layered with washes of murky yet vivid colours depicts the ethereal transience of the sky against areas of intense density. Artists in the east are better known for their intimacy with nature. L'Odeur du Ciel No.1 is a testament to his dexterity in rendering the presence of the sky, which looms across the broad expanse of the canvas. Despite the varied directions of his brushstrokes, Chu creates a profluent display of colors that give indication to a possible storm.
Often compared to his apparent Western counterpart, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Chu's style differs so. Achieving greatly alike end results, both men were obsessed with the idea of capturing the apparently uncapturable. In hindsight Turner's rendition is one of a peaceful outlook, whilst Chu's brings into play the unknown, the sense of what is to come. He composes a landscape from within, emitting a sense of power that suggests the calm before the storm. In spite of light, Chu obtains luminance in addition to movement that come together to realize his beliefs and ambitions in both life and art.
Experimenting with oil and canvas, both artists adopted it as their new-found medium, at the time unknown to Eastern Asia. Inspired by Impressionism, Zao Wou-Ki's La Mer (2004) encapsulates the sea at its best. A great source of fascination for many, the sea exudes an air of mystery, its depth unknown to most. Constantly inspiring it is at one and at the same time beautiful, yet hair-raising. La Mer could understandably be considered an epitome in representation of the sea. Reflecting undulating currents, the painting conveys movement through Zao's loose painting style.
Marking the beginning of a personal abstract style, La Mer portrays Zao's inclination to paint in purely light and color. Unlike artists of the West, Zao brings into play his appreciation for simple concepts, an aspect Eastern artists enjoy relating to. For that reason the sea itself becomes the subject, as opposed to an accompanying backdrop, transforming it into the essence of the painting.
The swirl of lively brushstrokes manifest the flux of the ocean's waters, depicting shallow and deep, reflecting the brilliant blue of the sky above. The power of the painting lies in the simple fact that human presence is strictly secondary to the water.
Bonham's current display of the private Portugese collection speaks more than words, inviting viewers to experience the lavish series of antiques against the humble simplistic embodiment of nature.
Most fascinating is the similarity in both artist's painting style despite the decade apart in execution. The assembly of and juxtaposition of forms remains ever inspirational, tied together by supreme taste.
It certainly would be no surprise to discover this particular gem of Bonham's collection empty by the end of the auction. Ever the promising future Bonham's will undoubtedly continue to impress. As its been quoted "objects of such finesse and calibre will continue to amaze, astonish and delight collectors and connoisseur across the globe for generations to come."
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