Chen Ke - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Tuesday, November 29, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Ophelia is the well-known character of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1599-1601), daughter of Polonius and potential wife of Prince Hamlet, who gradually enters a state of madness which eventually leads to her drowning. In Ophelia, a stunning 2006 piece, Chen Ke portrays the tragically famous scene of Ophelia’s death – whose most iconic version is probably the one realised in 1852 by the English painter John Everett Millais – in which her now lifeless body floats in a brook, facing the skies. The dreadful episode is represented with macabre, spectral tones, but the Chinese painter manages to imbue it with melancholic, delicate elegance. Instead of focusing on depicting Ophelia’s livor mortis and deadly expression, she reflects on the way the literary scene can awaken nightmarish memories in people’s minds and make uncomfortable thoughts resurge from their darkest corners.


     John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1852, Tate Gallery Collection


    Chen Ke plays tricks on the viewer’s eyes by painting the fronds of the tree above Ophelia’s body and the light moon in such a way that they resemble an enormous frightening bird with a long white beak, whose spherical eye looks into the depths of the gloomy water, and whose figure is covered with peacock toned iridescent feathers. To further bolster the subconscious feelings evoked by this ghostly depiction of Ophelia’s pitiful death, Chen Ke paints the scene inside the head of a human figure – perhaps a young girl, as one can assume from the two long black braids and small proportions of the body. The choice of setting the scene into a child’s mind emphasises the impressionability of children’s imagination and their ability to create eerie and otherworldly scenarios, which keep haunting adult’s minds in moments of vulnerability or during sleep.


    Chen Ke was born in Tongjiang, China, and received her BA from the Oil Painting Department of the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, and an MFA from the same faculty. She now lives and works in Beijing. Her work is part of the collections of the Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar, Netherlands, of the Franks-Suss Collection in London, of the Shenzhen Art Museum, among others. She recently held a solo show at Galerie Perrotin in Shanghai (15 June – 14 August 2021).

    • Provenance

      Primo Marella Gallery, Milan
      Acquired from the above by the present owner



signed, titled and dated '"Ophelia" [in Chinese and English] Chen Ke 2006 [in Chinese and Pinyin]' on the reverse
molding paste and oil on canvas
50 x 50 cm. (19 5/8 x 19 5/8 in.)
Executed in 2006.

Full Cataloguing

HK$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for HK$277,200

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2022