Shiy De-Jinn - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips
  •  Transcending the boundaries between East and West, classical and modern, Shiy De-Jinn’s emotive depictions of man and nature have cemented his status as one of Taiwan’s legendary cultural icons. Throughout his illustrious career, he passionately recorded what he saw and experienced, transferring timeless snapshots of people, daily life and scenery onto canvas and paper.  As precious reminders of Taiwan’s collective memories, they showcase the artist’s bold experimentations alongside his unfettered attitude towards both art and life. 

    Born in Sichuan in 1923, Shiy received artistic training from an young age, eventually studying at the National College of Art under the guidance of Chinese modern art pioneer Lin Fengmian. It was there that he acquired the fundamentals of Western art, along with an appreciation for line and form which formed the basis of his oeuvre. In 1948, the artist left for Taiwan shortly after his graduation, where he settled for the remainder of his life. 

    Bernard Buffet, Palais des Doges, 1962
    Sold by Phillips London, 13 October 2022 for £296,100 (premium)

    During his early years in Taiwan, Shiy was most famous for his portraiture, but his works also featured numerous views of houses, alleyways, landmarks, and the countryside. Utilising strong compositions and organisation of space, they vividly depict realistic reconstructions of Taiwan’s unique cityscape and customs. Though the artist had begun to explore abstraction and the avant-garde in the 1960s, his 1962 piece Houses by the Seashore retains both his formal training in figuration, as well as sentiments of Chinese ink painting, including the use of colour washes and his calligraphic application of line.

    Notably, the latter holds similarities with French Expressionist painter Bernard Buffet’s representational style, which Shiy came across through international publications and was heavily influenced by. Simple, precise, direct and bold, Buffet’s heavy brushstrokes in works like Palais des Doges create a sense of visual oppression that fully immersed the viewer into his scenes of Europe. Similarly, Shiy incorporated such lines into the outlines of buildings, not just to highlight the dense population situated along the shore, but also painting a detailed picture of Taiwan’s natural beauty which resonated greatly with local audiences. 

    "In the future, I will devote my passion to living and creating Taiwan, so that Taiwan can be immortalised. The sunshine, the breath of the land, the capability of the people…all frozen through my words. Consider Gaugain, who left Paris to paint the primitive simplicity of Tahiti natives. And think of Van Gogh, who moved away from Paris to paint the vitality of sunshine and sunflowers in southern France."
    — Shiy De-Jinn, 3 January 1966, Paris

    At the invitation of the United States Department of State, Shiy embarked on a year-long visit to New York in 1962, and subsequently stayed in France for three years. Immersing into the works of pop artists and old masters diversified his practice, but also led the artist to the realisation that he desired to return to Taiwan - Paris could no longer fulfil Shiy’s wider aspirations. Adamant that only life could bring truth to his art, he sought to live on home soil, to understand the lives and emotions of his own people, to directly experience the beauty of life. In 1966, the artist once again stepped foot on Taiwanese soil.

    Upon his homecoming, Shiy slowly moved away from Western trends, instead focusing themes of land and nature, particularly in his later years, and began to practice calligraphy to improve the fluidity of his brushstrokes. Though the artist experimented with ink wash painting, he returned to the medium of watercolour, believing that it could better transmit his desired aesthetic whilst keeping similar visual effects. 

    " Don’t treat watercolour as purely watercolour. Instead, you need to study it in-depth from multiple aspects such as calligraphy and sketching. Only when you reach thorough understanding of Eastern and Western culture can you paint watercolour that is inherently Chinese."
    — Shiy De-Jinn

    Combining his various sources of artistic influences, Shiy’s watercolours after 1969 evoked a sense of classical beauty within modernity that took inspiration from literati painting and traditional Chinese techniques. Compared with his previous landscapes, compositions such as The Farmlands beside Mountains place a greater emphasis on the rendering of its overall atmosphere. Unlike Houses by the Seashore, there is no hint of the distinctive weight lines that defined his earlier works. 

    Attributed to Qu Ding, Summer Mountains, circa 1050
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

    First wetting the entire sheet of paper, Shiy paints the towering mountains with large smears of colour, accurately grasping the variations in layers and distance between each element of the composition.  Like splashed ink paintings from the Song Dynasty, the subtle gradations of greys, blacks and coloured tones reveals the brilliance of Shiy’s execution - one can almost feel the mist exuding from the mountain tops. Hazy in appearance, it further adds a sense of mystery and tranquillity. Just as relatable, fashionable and profound in contemporary culture, Shiy’s faithful reproductions of Taiwan and its vast landscape have left behind prolific legacy that continues to move audiences in the 21st century.

    Over the course of his career, Shiy was the subject of numerous solo show across the US, Europe and Asia. With his painting The Goose Seller, he was selected to participate in The Fourth International Biennial of Sao Paolo in 1957. In 2021, 40 years after his passing, multiple retrospectives and exhibitions were held across Taiwan in honour of his contributions to art, a testament to the impact he left on Taiwanese culture. They include: For the Love of this Island - Shiy De-Jinn Retrospective, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, We are History - Shiy De-Jinn, Chishang Art Center, Taitung and Legend - Shiy De-Jinn, Chishang Art Center, Taitung.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      JSL Auction, Taipei, 16 December 2007, lot 30
      Private Collection, Taiwan
      JSL Auction, Taipei, 15 June 2014, lot 94
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Farms In Front of Mountains

signed and dated "Shiy De-Jinn [in Chinese] 1977" lower left
watercolour on paper
54.8 x 74.8 cm. (21 5/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
Executed in 1977.

Full Cataloguing

HK$120,000 - 200,000 

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Head of Day Sale, Associate Specialist
+852 2318 2014

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 7 October 2023