Paintings by Wu Guangzhong, one of China’s most important contemporary artists, headline the biggest and most valuable sale to date at Surrey’s premier auctioneers Ewbank Clarke Gammon Wellers. The three-day Summer auction is on June 29, 30 and July 1.
Leading the sale are six works on paper by Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010) from the private collection of Mrs Juan Chi, the owner of the Celadon Art Gallery which, until it closed in 2008, operated from premises in Princes Arcade, Piccadilly. Each of the six is worth £40,000-60,000, while among prized ceramics is a Yixing earthenware teapot by Jiang Rong (1919-2008) alone worth £10,000-12,000.
Mrs Chi was born in Changchun, the capital city of Jilin Province in northeast China, but moved to London to marry her British lawyer husband in 1996. She opened Celadon Gallery, strategically placed opposite the Royal Academy of Art, the following year, inviting living Chinese artists, both well known and less well known, to exhibit their work in a series of popular and successful shows. She organised further exhibitions at the annual International Art on Paper exhibitions held at the Royal College of Art. The gallery closed in the recession of 2008.
Her exhibition of works on paper by Wu Guanzhong, one of the major artistic figures of the 20th century both in China and the West, was a highlight of the gallery’s 10 years in operation. Aged 90 when he died last June, Wu Guanzhong had risen to become one of the most accomplished and influential artists of his generation.
He was born in Jiangsu Province and studied at the National Art School in Hangzhou and in Paris at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. He returned to China and taught at the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts in Beijing, but was exiled to the country during the Cultural Revolution. For the next two years, separated from his wife who had been sent to a different camp, he was forced to do the back-breaking work of a labourer, painting only when permitted, using any scraps of material he could find. He remarked later that he had belonged to the “dung basket school of painting”.
He was subsequently rehabilitated and allowed to take up painting once more, decorating hotels and public buildings before an exhibition of his work at the Central Academy in 1978 revived his fortunes. Major exhibitions followed at the British Museum in 1988, the US in 1989 and in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. His pictures, mainly landscapes of haunting beauty, blend Western oil painting techniques with traditional Chinese brush strokes and calligraphy. In 2009, his 1974 oil painting Panoramic View of the Yangtze River sold for $8.4 million at an auction in Beijing.
Known for preferring to give away his paintings rather than sell them, the six pictures in the Ewbank sale were given to Mrs Chi after they were exhibited at the International Art on Paper Fair in 2006. Each is signed and executed in ink and colour. Two dated 2001 and 2004 respectively are forest landscapes, two show views over village rooftops, one of which is dated ’94, and two others, each dated ’94, are mountainous views of villages and forests.
Master potter Jiang Rong is renowned for her highly naturalistic teapots decorated with fruit, flowers and animals, made from the unique Zisha clay found only in Yixing. Zisha teapots are treasured for their ability to enhance the flavour, aroma and texture of the drink. She learned her craft from her father and uncle and studied the arts of the famous Zisha masters of the Ming and Qing dynasties before joining the Yixing Zisha Industrial Art Manufacturing company in 1955. Her toad, water lily and seed pod teapot is among her masterpieces. It derives from the saying that “a toad never knows he is ugly” and interestingly, each seed impressed into the side of the pot can be rotated freely but cannot be removed.
Among a number of other teapots are two Yixing Zisha examples, each estimated at £3,000-5,000. One is modelled in red earthenware with a fruit finial and is inscribed around the bowl in Chinese, while the other, by Lu Wen Xia is modelled in cane-coloured earthenware as a woven basket with faux driftwood handle, spout and finial. Lu Wen Xia studied under Jiang Rong, among other masters, and her work, most in naturalistic themes that mimic bamboo and wood, is unique to her. Her husband, Lu Jian Xing, is a sculptor and teapot artist who collaborated with her on the making of this piece.
Elsewhere, the Juan Chi Collection includes porcelain, jade, glass, bronzes, cloisonné, calligraphy, drawings, scroll paintings and prints to be offered in 190 lots.