Three Graces

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  • Provenance

    Collection of the artist's family
    Taipei, Lin & Keng Gallery
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Taipei, Lin & Keng Gallery, Experiences of Passage: The Paintings of Yun Gee and Li-lan, 15 November - 16 December 2008, p. 80-81 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    When I visited the Louvre day after day, the masterpieces there spoke to me in a language that was neither French nor Chinese but which transcended time and place. Here was something universal which had meaning for every man regardless of race or state. A painting by Cezanne or Courbet became as close to me as any of the scrolls by the Chinese masters with which I was so familiar. And I realized that East and West were not so far apart, for in their finest creative effort, there was something very much akin. I settled down in Paris to achieve this aim.
    - Yun Gee

    Yun Gee penned “The Chinese Artist and the World of Tomorrow” in the mid-­‐1920s, a few years after settling in America. (In Yun Gee: Poetry, Writing, Art, Theories, ed. Anthony W. Lee, Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2003, 141-142.) In it, he proposed two goals for his contemporaries: embrace Western influences in order to make Chinese art more universally relevant for the twentieth century, and promote Chinese philosophical principles for the general betterment of the world. It also offers a template for Yun Gee’s career. Artist, poet, and musician, his life was marked by both critical acclaim and struggle, but Yun Gee never wavered from his aesthetic and philosophical ideals.

    Yun Gee was born in 1906 in Guangdong, where he received his early education. It may have been there that he encountered the ideas of Gao Jianfu (1879-­‐1952) and Gao Qifeng (1889-­‐1933), who advocated modernising guohua and imbuing it with a political agenda. The brothers’ strong commitment to revolutionary change in art and politics can be seen in the young Yun Gee’s ideas. Gee emigrated to America in 1921, at age 15, and settled in San Francisco where his father resided. He enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts in 1925, and the following year had his first solo exhibition of colourful Cubist-inflected works. That same year, Yun Gee founded the Chinese Revolutionary Artists’ Club, a venue for teaching painting and espousing his ideas about the importance of a universal modernist art with both aesthetic appeal and social consciousness.

    Although Yun Gee spent most of his adult life in America, he twice journeyed to Paris for extended stays in 1927-­30 and 1936-­39. Encouraged by his success in San Francisco and the urgings of new French patrons, Yun Gee felt ready for a more challenging artistic arena. He found Paris exhilarating, and recognition came quickly. Within a year of arriving, a solo exhibition was followed by group shows at the Salon des Indépendants, and marked Yun Gee as a rising star. His work was shown alongside that of Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, and Chaim Soutine, and received positive reviews. He also met many influential figures of the Parisian avant-­‐garde, like Gertrude Stein and Ambroise Vollard.

    The global economic recession altered Yun Gee’s Paris plans. In 1930, he left Paris for New York. Despite the hardships of the Great Depression, Gee worked incessantly. His paintings, often depicting New York scenes, were featured in gallery shows, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). (Wheels: Industrial New York (1932) and two other paintings were included in Murals by American Painters and Photographers, the inaugural exhibition for the opening of MoMA’s new building). Still, Yun Gee found himself disillusioned with opportunities in New York and increasingly mindful of the racism he encountered. He returned to Paris in 1936. This time, the deteriorating geopolitical situation of Europe in the 1930s cut his journey short, and he returned to New York in 1939 at the outset of World War II.

    The years in Paris had an undeniable influence on Yun Gee’s development, both artistically and in terms of how he saw himself. Works from the late 1920s turned more introspective. In place of the colourful portraits and landscapes of his San Francisco period, Gee’s palette darkened, and he seemed to be in search of an identity — racially, culturally, and artistically. He painted images from Chinese history and philosophy, and also portrayed himself as a Chinese painter in Paris. In How I Saw Myself in a Dream, from around 1929, Gee walks along a deserted Parisian street, dressed in the long gown and cloth shoes of a Chinese scholar. A solitary figure, set in a composition of strong diagonals and deep colours, it offers an extraordinary glimpse of the artist’s burgeoning identity and recognition of his inner struggle as a Chinese artist in a foreign land.

    Paris also exposed Yun Gee to current trends in art. He encountered modernist trends: Cubism, Fauvism, Synchromism, and Futurism. He explored Western artistic traditions in Paris’ many museums, especially the Louvre. He wrote, “When I visited the Louvre day after day, the masterpieces there spoke to me in a language which was neither French nor Chinese, but which transcended time and place.” (Yun Gee, “East and West Meet in Paris,” in Yun Gee: Poetry, Writing, Art, Theories, ed. Anthony W. Lee, Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2003, 182.) Perhaps it was at the Louvre that Yun Gee first encountered the art of classical antiquity and images of the Three Graces. During the Renaissance, artists revived the theme, with the three goddesses becoming an embodiment of female beauty and charm. Modern artists continued to depict them: paintings by Robert Delaunay (1912) and Pablo Picasso (1925), for example, adapted the theme with distinctive modernist interpretations.

    Yun Gee painted Three Graces upon his return to New York in 1939. He offers a oneiric narrative, laden with symbols and allusions understood only by the artist himself — and maybe not even fully by him. Three nudes stand at the centre of the composition in a fantastical landscape setting and surrounded by fanciful creatures. In 1939, Gee had been experimenting with entwined groups of female figures. The figures in Knights Combat, for example, are painted in lively poses, their arms outstretched and intertwined, and suggestive of the ancient theme.

    The Graces at the centre of this dramatic composition are not alone. Yun Gee placed them within an otherworldly landscape, bathed in the glow of moonlight and flanked them with unusual figures. Another classical allusion, in the form of a faun, appears to the left. This mythical creature, often shown in its half-­‐human, half-­‐goat form, here reclines against a rocky outcropping, as the spectral image of one of his flock hovers nearby. More commonly depicted frolicking in a wooded setting, the faun holds a slender flute, as he appears to keep a watchful eye on the Graces. Yun Gee once painted a self-­portrait playing a flute, and perhaps the faun here is a mischievous reference to the artist himself.

    Abstract figures – human and animal — dominate the right side of the canvas. A male, dressed in costume, wears a hat on which perches a large black bird. Before him stands an unusually imagined sheep. Both figures deepen the mysterious mood of the painting. The influence of Surrealism, with its perplexing imagery, and Expressionism, with its distortions and emotional origins on Yun Gee, is evident. Freud’s theories of dreams may play a role, as well. Freud saw dreams as an expression of the unconscious; the symbols in dreams denoted urges and impulses repressed by the conscious mind. Three Graces does, indeed, suggest an extraordinary dreamscape of the mind with Gee giving shape to a private inner vision.

    Alongside a mixture of Western imagery and modernist styles, the work also evokes the elements of Chinese painting. Yun Gee’s ties to China and Chinese culture remained strong throughout his life, and during his years in New York he contributed paintings and cartoons to benefit social and political causes back home. In Three Graces, Yun Gee abandoned the modulated line of Chinese painting in favor of rougher, more staccato brushwork. But within the composition itself are vestiges of the Chinese painting tradition. For instance, the furrowed hills recall similarly lumpen forms in paintings by Huang Gongwang (1269-­1354) and Dong Qichang (1555-­1636). Echoing a compositional device common in Chinese painting, a path zigzags from the foreground into the distance beyond, drawing the viewer’s eye into a swirling atmospheric rendering of the unknown.

    The year 1939 was a momentous one. France and England’s declaration of war against Germany marked the start of World War II, and precipitated Yun Gee’s return to America. Against the uncertainty of global events, Gee continued to paint and write, and in 1939 he published his treatise on Diamondism. “Diamondism At Last! Or What It Takes to Make a Good Picture” marked another important moment in Yun Gee’s artistic journey — the fruit of his lifelong quest to formulate a theory of art. He explained that good pictures successfully combine physical, intellectual, and psychological elements that reveal both physical likeness and metaphysical truth. Following these principles, one begins to appreciate the complex achievement represented by Three Graces.

    Yun Gee’s career was marked by restlessness, of both body and spirit. He moved frequently in search of a community where race and ethnicity were not liabilities, and where his many talents might be fully appreciated. The intricacies of his artistic vision are on full display in Three Graces. Layers of influence — antiquity, Modernism, Surrealism, Freud and China — define Yun Gee’s art. His passions were many, as were the ways he expressed them. Yun Gee occupied a unique position. The world he negotiated in his life and art was territory defined by the disparate poles of Chinese culture and Western modernism. Yun Gee was an early voice in the creation of a global language of modernism, and a pioneer in the establishment of a unique aesthetic.

    Phillips wishes to thank Professor Melissa Walt for the writing in this essay.

  • Catalogue Essay

    「當我日復一日造訪羅浮宮,大師的作品開始與我對談,既不是以法文也不是中文,是種超越了時空藩籬的語言。」-- 朱沅芷

    1920年代中期,也就是朱沅芷移民至美國安頓後幾年,發表了《中國藝術家與明日的世界》一文,於文中他向當代藝術家提出兩項目標:擁抱西方的影響,而創作出與二十世紀更加息息相關的中國藝術,再者,積極推倡中國的哲思,以求更美好的世界。(朱沅芷,「中國藝術家與明日的世界」,出自《朱沅芷:詩詞、文集、藝術、理論》安東尼・W・李,西雅圖及倫敦,華盛頓大學出版社,2003年,第141-142頁)這似乎也呼應了朱沅芷的藝術生涯,身兼藝術家、詩人及音樂家的他,一路走來雖受到高度認可,其中卻不乏多所掙扎,但是朱沅芷從未對他所堅持的美學與哲學上的理想作出讓步。

    朱沅芷在1906年生於廣東省,早年在家鄉接受教育。也許他是在那個時候接觸到了高劍父(1879-1952)及高奇峰(1889-1933)所倡導的國畫現代化,並在其中引入政治宣傳。高氏兄弟堅決改革藝術與政治的意念,在年輕的朱沅芷心頭埋下了種子。1921年,他在十五歲那年移民到了美國,在父親所居住的三藩市落腳,四年後進入加州美術學校,並在次年舉行生平首度個展,展出當時色彩豐富及受到立體主義影響的作品。同年,他開創了「中國改革藝術家俱樂部」,在那裡他教授繪畫以及散播他的理念,強調一個全球化的現代藝術家需同時兼具美學訴求及社會意識之重要性。

    儘管朱沅芷在成年後大部分的時間都在美國,他曾於1927-30及1936‐39年間,兩度造訪巴黎,並佇留了一陣子。基於先前在舊金山發展的成功,以及巴黎新藏家的敦促,他覺得是時候朝著下一步的藝術挑戰躍進。巴黎對於他來說是個令人振奮的城市,也迅速在此獲得肯定。抵達巴黎的第一年即受邀舉辦個展,隨後又參加了聯展以及獨立藝術家沙龍,成為當地矚目的明日之星。其作品與布拉克、杜菲及蘇汀一同展出,並獲正面評價。同時他也結識了巴黎前衛藝術具影響地位的重要人物歌楚・史坦女士及安伯斯・沃拉。

    然而,由於全球經濟大蕭條,朱沅芷對於巴黎的願景不得不做出修正。1930年,他離開巴黎回到紐約。儘管經濟蕭條的困境,他卻不懈創作。其繪畫往往捕捉了紐約街景,不僅在畫廊展出,甚至包括了布魯克林美術館及紐約現代美術館。(《工業之輪在紐約》,1932年,以及另兩幅畫展出於紐約現代美術館新館開幕展「美國畫家與攝影師壁畫展」。) 朱沅芷當時卻仍感受到在紐約發展機會的幻滅,他也經歷到了種族歧視。於是他在1936年重返巴黎,歐洲當時的地緣政治地位日益萎化,因此讓朱沅芷無法久留。二次世界大戰爆發之際,他最終還是在1939年回到了紐約。

    那些在巴黎的日子,在朱沅芷人生發展留下不可抹滅的印記,無論是在藝術層面或是他看待自己的方式。1920年末期後作品偏向內省,和他於三藩市時期充滿色彩的肖像或風景截然不同,色調驟然轉向深暗,彷彿在種族、文化與藝術的自我定位上欲尋求更深的探索。中國歷史及哲學的意象開始出現在畫中,或是可見到他在自畫像裡將自己描繪成一位身處巴黎的中國藝術家。《在夢中看到的自己》約創作於1929年,其中藝術家在空蕩的巴黎街頭踽踽獨行,穿著長袍及布鞋的打扮就像中國古代文人一般。一個孤寂的身影,置身於一個強烈對角線構圖及深沈色調裡,讓我們瞥見了朱沅芷內心萌發的自我定位及認可,一位中國藝術家身處異鄉內心所歷經的掙扎。

    此外,巴黎也讓朱沅芷接觸到當下的藝術新潮流,包括立體派、野獸派、共色主義及未來主義等現代藝術流派。在巴黎的美術館裡,他探索到西方美學傳統,尤其在羅浮宮。「當我日復一日造訪羅浮宮,大師的作品開始與我對談,既不是以法文也不是中文,是種超越了時空藩籬的語言。」(朱沅芷,「巴黎的東西交匯」,出自《朱沅芷:詩詞、文集、藝術、理論》安東尼・W・李,西雅圖及倫敦,華盛頓大學出版社,2003年,第182頁) 也許,藝術家即是在羅浮宮內初次見到了希臘三美神及其他古典藝術。在文藝復興時期,藝術家們重返古典主題,將三美神化身為女性之美與柔媚。現代藝術家也延續這個傳統於繪畫之中:例如羅伯特・德羅納(1912) 及帕伯羅・畢卡索(1925)皆曾針對這個古典主題做出獨特的現代解讀。

    《三美神》創作於朱沅芷1939年重返紐約之時,如夢囈般的敘事,並滿載著象徵符號及寓意,也許唯有藝術家本人能了解,甚或連他自己也不全然理解。三位裸女站在構圖中央,於一片虛幻的景致中,圍繞著許多奇幻的生物。在這一年,他開始嘗試描繪交纏的女性軀體。《搏鬥武士》中的人物即為一例,他們的姿態生動,手臂外展並綣繞著彼此,也呼應了這古典主題。

    畫面中央的三美神在這個戲劇性的構圖裡並不孤單,朱沅芷將她們放在超脫現實的境地之中,浸淫在柔和月光下,然後被一群奇特的形體圍繞著。畫面左方出現像是牧羊神的形體,這個神話中的造物同源為古老神話典故,經常是半人半羊的軀體,在此斜倚著岩石,其身旁則飛過一抹若似幽靈般的生物。一般繪畫中的人羊常被描繪成森林中跳舞的模樣,在此他拿著細長的笛子並且注視著三美神。朱沅芷其實曾於自畫像中畫著自己吹奏笛子,也許他在此詼諧地將自己化身成了畫中的牧羊神。

    抽象的人物或動物形體主宰了畫面的右側。一位著裝男子,頭上戴了棲息著一隻大黑鳥的帽子,而他則站在一頭超乎異常想像的羊之上,這兩個形體加深了這幅畫的神秘氣氛。超現實主義中謎般的意象以及表現主義中扭曲及情緒根源,對於朱沅芷的影響顯而易見。佛洛伊德解讀夢的理論或許也多有影響,他將夢視作潛意識的表達,夢境中的象徵可解讀為心理意識所壓抑的衝動。《三美神》的確也傳達出了一種強烈的心理夢境,朱沅芷藉此將私密的內在心相化為形體。

    此作除融合了西方意象及現代風格之外,中國繪畫元素也同時可見。朱沅芷畢生緊繫著中國這片土地及文化,他在紐約也不時貢獻出畫作或時事漫畫,以回饋造福祖國的社會或政治發展。《三美神》中,他捨棄中國繪畫在施力輕重間轉換的線條技法,而傾向用了較為粗獷、斷續的筆觸,然而在構圖本身卻隱約可見中國繪畫傳統,其中轉側的丘壑就不禁讓人緬想起黃公望(1269-1354)和董其昌(1555‐1636)畫中塊狀的山水結構。而從前景蜿蜒到遠方的曲折小徑,更是中國畫常採用的技法,引導觀者目光進入旋迴而充滿未知的氛圍。

    1939年是歷史上關鍵的一年,法國及英國向德國宣戰,二次世界大戰正式爆發,因而也迫使朱沅芷回到美國。全球瀰漫著一片不確定性,他繼續執著繪畫及寫作,該年他發表了「鑽石主義」的論文《鑽石主義藝術終於來了!或者,要畫出好畫所要具備的》,這標誌了他藝術生涯重要的里程,一生傾盡全力追求提出藝術理論的成果。他解釋道,好的繪畫成功地結合實體、知性及心理元素,並能同時揭示實體相似度與形而上的真理。依據這些原則,觀者自能全然體會他在《三美神》中所展現的高度成就。

    不管在實體或是精神層面上,朱沅芷一生藝術旅程似乎如馬不停蹄般地動盪,頻繁地遷徙,不斷試著去尋找一個地方,在那裡人們能夠不在意種族血緣,他多方的才華也能完全受到賞識。其藝術觀的複雜性在《三美神》中獲得完美體現:來自古代、現代主義、超現實主義、佛洛伊德以及中國等多層次的影響,定義了朱沅芷的藝術。他對許多事物充滿熱情,他所表達出的方式也亦然,因此也在藝術史上有著十分獨特的位置,其人其藝跨越看似兩極的中國文化及西方現代主義,開創出一塊只屬於他的疆土。朱沅芷更可視為在現代主義基調上推創出普世藝術語言的重要先驅,建立了獨一無二的美學價值。

    富藝斯特別鳴謝Melissa Walt博士協助撰寫此專文。

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18

Property of an Important Asian Collector

Three Graces

1939
signed 'Yun Gee' lower left
oil on canvas
94 x 101.6 cm. (37 x 40 in.)
Painted in 1939.

Estimate
HK$8,000,000 - 12,000,000 
€898,000-1,350,000
$1,030,000-1,540,000

Contact Specialist
Jonathan Crockett
Deputy Chairman, Asia and Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Asia
+852 2318 2023

Isaure de Viel Castel
Head of Department
+852 2318 2011

Sandy Ma
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2025

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018