West Lake

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    By descent from the artist to the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “With the emphasis on the common origin of calligraphy and painting in Chinese art, artists have long regarded both calligraphic and painterly brushstrokes as the very life of their art. Although oil painting has been my practice and study, I have never forgotten this crucial factor.” Liu Kang

    “I used to live in China for some years, which is why I have been able to paint landscapes of Suzhou, Hangzhou, Guilin and Huangshan so effortlessly. Later when I came to live in Southeast Asia, having felt the equatorial sunshine, appreciated the tropical flora, listened to the stains of Rasa Sayang and watched the gracefulness of the Legong dance, my wrist moved with spirit when I painted scenes for Malay kampongs and Balinese temple ceremonies.” Liu Kang

    Coming from the personal collection of the artist’s family, the present lot is an early, rare and striking work from 1933, by the Singaporean modernist painter Liu Kang, whose unrivalled influence in the establishment of the Nanyang style of painting in Singapore is uncontestable. Painted in the very same year that Liu Kang began his professorship for Western art at the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, the scene was most likely painted during one of the outdoor excursions that Liu led pupils to, at the famed West Lake in Hangzhou.

    Born in Fujian Province and having spent his formative years in Malaysia, Liu Kang returned from his art studies in Paris to Shanghai when he was 23 years old, and was hired by his mentor and cultural reformer Liu Haisu as an instructor to teach at his alma mater. The Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, the most important private art school in Republican China, at the time was recovering from the Nude Model Incident that almost shut down the school permanently due to its highly controversial life nude sketching classes. Liu found himself at the centre of the Chinese modern art movement, struggling to define modernity through synthesis of Eastern and Western art and culture, which at times were a conflict between progressive and conservative ideals. In the 1930s, Liu Kang’s course had the highest enrollment at the Academy. Being the youngest professor at the Academy and a forward-thinking instructor, Liu Kang presented his students with new techniques and styles, encouraging them to paint en plein air in the manner of the Barbizon school and the Impressionists. Liu Haisu attributed the artist’s rapid success as a teacher to his “wide knowledge of literature, together with his serious and sincere approach to teaching.”

    West Lake represents what Liu laid down as the key principles of his artistic practice: “a sense of ethnicity”, “time”, “place”, and “character”. (Taken from Liu Kang’s essay, “I Am 87” published for the occasion of Liu Kang at 87, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 1996.) He depicts West Lake, one of the most important sources of inspiration for Chinese poets and painters over the centuries, in a manner that converges the colourful liveliness of the Paris school, chiaroscuro and linear perspective techniques of traditional European academic painting, and the dark outlines that recalls Chinese ink painting. Being an admirer of Post-Impressionists such as Cézanne, van Gogh and Matisse, Liu had long believed their works displayed similarities to traditional Chinese painting in the way that they rejected portraying verisimilitude in favour of expressing the painter’s emotions, which can be likened to the xieyi quality in literati art.

    West Lake, with its stylised depiction, poetic brushwork and unpainted areas (liubai), is almost a direct homage to one of the greatest literati painters - the poet-calligrapher-painter polymath Su Shi (also known as Su Dongpo), who served as a governor of Hangzhou in the Song dynasty, and whose namesake is on the very structure which this painting depicts – Su Causeway. Through West Lake, we can trace the roots of the cultural reformist movements of China in the first half of the 20th century, and the generation of Chinese artists like Liu Kang who attempted to modernise Chinese literati painting.

    When Liu moved to Malaysia in 1937, and Singapore in 1942, he continued to be known for his artistic enquiry of the relationship between traditions, identities, Southeast Asian regionalism and the search of new artistic languages. He later continued to be credited with numerous contributions to the local arts scene as an arts educator. In 1952, Liu, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Cheong Soo Pieng went on a field trip to Bali in search of a visual expression that was uniquely Southeast Asian. Just as he is known for Matisse-like colour blocks and bold outlines, which can be likened to batik and Chinese ink painting, let us recall that his lifelong influences had primarily been founded on a quest to marry and innovate Europe and China from his early days, and finally adapting such diverging stimuli to become a quintessential character of Southeast Asia.

  • Catalogue Essay

    「中國藝術講究書畫同源,故此藝術家一直視書法和繪畫筆觸為其藝術根本。雖然我所學所用的是油畫,但我並沒有忘記這個要素。」——劉抗

    「我在中國住了些年,因此繪畫蘇州、杭州、桂林和黃山的風景並不費勁。隨後我來到東南亞居住,感受到熾熱的陽光和熱帶植物,聽著『拉莎莎揚埃』民謠歌曲,看著優雅的雷貢舞蹈,當我勾畫馬來村莊和峇里廟宇儀式時,我的手腕隨著我的精神在動。」——劉抗

    此次上拍作品來自藝術家家族的私人收藏,是1933年的早期作品,罕見而突出。劉抗是新加坡現代主義畫家,其對新加坡南洋畫派的風格建立功不可沒。此畫是他開始在上海藝術學院執教西方藝術同年的作品。畫中景色為杭州西湖,應是劉抗帶學生出去寫生時的作品。

    劉抗在中國福建省出生,少年在馬來西亞度過,23歲時從巴黎完成藝術學習回到上海,得到其恩師,文化革新推動者劉海粟的聘用,在母校執教。上海藝專是民國時期最重要的私立藝術學校,當時因推出了極具爭議的裸體模特寫生課程而差點被封校,剛從該事件中恢復過來。劉抗發現自己正處於中國現代藝術運動的中心,竭力在融合東西方藝術與文化,為現代運動奠下新的定義,這在當時是革新派和保守派之間的衝突。在1930年代,劉抗的課程是學校報讀率最高的一個。作為學校最年輕的教授,他思想前衛,展現給學生們新的技巧和風格,鼓勵他們像巴比松畫派和印象主義畫家那樣在戶外寫生。劉海粟把劉抗作為老師的迅速成功歸功於他「對學術的淵博知識,以及他對教學的認真誠懇態度。」

    《西湖》呈現出劉抗對其藝術手法歸納出的重點:「民族性」、「時間」、「地點」和「個性」。(摘自劉抗的論文,<我87歳>,於「劉抗87歳大展」展覽發表,新加坡美術館,新加坡,1996年)畫中的西湖是中國詩人與畫家數百年來最重要的靈感來源之一,劉抗在畫中融匯了巴黎畫派的鮮活色彩,明暗對比和傳統歐洲學院派的線性透視技法,而深色勾勒線條則讓人想起中國水墨。劉抗十分欣賞塞尚、梵高、馬蒂斯等後印象派時期藝術家,並認為他們的作品與傳統中國繪畫有著相通的理念,他們捨形似而求表達畫家的感性,與文人藝術的寫意思想頗為相似。《西湖》之風格化描繪、富有韻律的筆觸和留白處理都似乎在向文人畫巨匠蘇東波(蘇軾)致敬,蘇軾為北宋杭州知州,更是著名的文學家、書法家和畫家,此畫所繪之蘇堤便是為紀念他而命名。通過《西湖》,我們似乎可以追溯中國二十世紀上半期文化改革的發展根源,以及劉抗等一代中國藝術家為中國文人畫現代化作出的努力。

    劉抗於1937年移居馬來西亞,1942年移居新加坡,繼續以其對傳統、身份和東南亞地方色彩的融合,以及對新型藝術語言的追尋而聞名國際。其後,他更以藝術教育者的身份對當地藝壇作出許多貢獻而備受讚譽。1952年,劉抗、陳宗瑞、陳文希和鍾泗濱前往峇里實地考察旅行,希望找到一種屬於東南亞的獨特視覺表達。劉抗筆下的馬蒂斯風格色塊和粗獷勾勒線條最為知名,與蠟染和中國水墨不無相似之處,由此也體現出他從早年就探索融匯歐洲與中國藝術的追求,取不同風格理論之最,形成蘊含東南亞精粹的藝術作品。

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Property from the Liu Kang Family

Liu Kang

West Lake

1933
signed and dated 'Kang [in Chinese] 33' lower left
oil on canvas
61 x 75 cm (24 x 29 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1933.

Estimate
HK$250,000 - 350,000 
€28,400-39,800
$32,100-44,900

Place Advance Bid
Contact Specialist
Isaure de Viel Castel
Head of Department, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 26 May 2019