Zhou Chunya - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • “Flowers are eternal subjects for all artists, maybe because the beauty of nature is so irresistible.” 
    — Zhou Chunya


    Exquisitely painted with rich visual splendour, Peach Blossom is a sophisticated canvas by leading Chinese Contemporary artist Zhou Chunya. Best known for his gestural, vibrant paintings that seamlessly synthesise traditional Chinese and Western aesthetics, Peach Blossom encapsulates Zhou’s devotion to painting; masterfully composed of peaks and troughs of impasto layers and dexterous mark-making that dance across the canvas surface, magnifying colour at its most superlative. 


    The artist majestically paints the lush, pink, floral horizon in full bloom, balanced by a cooling body of sapphire water that streams diagonally down the centre of the work. In a beautiful celebration of life in its fullness, he demonstrates the essence of traditional Chinese literati painting to reveal the cathartic, spiritual voice of the painter that longs for nature and seclusion. But at the same time, Peach Blossom is composed in an utterly modern way, attributed to his distancing from the Cynical Realism and Political Pop movements that dominated Chinese art in the 1980s, which led him to discover the painterly movements pioneering across the Western art world. Painting the world through his romanticised lens, Zhou evokes both the serene and beautiful in Peach Blossom, radiating positive energy through colour and form.


    Zhou Chunya in his studio

     The Auspicious Peach Blossom



    Having first appeared in his oeuvre in 1997, peach blossoms have since become prominently foregrounded as the running motif in Zhou’s extensive body of work. Following a decade of exploration with his renowned Green Dog and Human series, the artist began to turn towards the cathartic presence of florals in full bloom, a visually glorious phenomenon that only lasts for a couple of days in the Springtime. Inspired by a Chinese proverb that states ‘the greatest truth lies in simplicity’, Zhou stretches this time of peak bloom indefinitely by opening the cherished flowers in Peach Blossom to showcase a full field of vibrant fuchsia that extends into the horizon line, as far as the eye can see.


    An auspicious symbol to the Chinese traditions, peach blossoms are culturally entwined with grace, love, and femininity. As such, the present painting both presents a robust dialogue with this auspicious symbolism whilst simultaneously showcasing the artist’s intimate, spiritual bond with nature. 




    Vincent van Gogh, Roses and Peonies, 1886
    Collection of Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo


    Zhou radiates flirtatious energy and passion into this picture. The centred branch adorned with blossoms displays sculptural layers of undulating impasto, which skillfully contributes to the composition by emphasising the organic details of the springtime plant in its full effect. Using wet on wet techniques reminiscent of the Impressionists Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh, Zhou blends and smooths the shapes of the petals before then applying drier and darker brushstrokes of burgundy and deep violet. The result is a dramatic vivaciousness of colour, light, and shadow, representing the period of peach blossoms at their most beautiful and fluorescent. The present work conveys a deep focus on the delicate radiance of the scene, thus recalling the ephemeral quality of life kindred to the artistic pursuits of Van Gogh, whose Roses and Peonies (1886) is too, executed with short brushstrokes that capture the visually striking florals in full bloom, simultaneously reminding us of their fleeting presence. 


    Through Zhou’s impressive compositional technique and painterly skill, it is as if the viewer has stepped into a fantastical hidden landscape in the present work, invited to peer behind the blossom branch that commands the foreground, and into the vast roseate oasis that is partially obscured. Whilst Zhou’s extensive series of peach blossom works occasionally portray human figures caught in an embrace, presenting an idyllic picture of intimacy and romance, this masterpiece uniquely does not. Instead, it is as if we are the lucky chosen ones to rejoice in this scene of fleeting splendour, solace, and contemplation. Contributing to the uniqueness of the work is the blue, jewel-toned river that runs through the landscape - a feature considered less common in his series of peach blossom scenes that introduces movement and ideas surrounding the passing of time. 


    Ming Dysnasty, Ding Yunpeng, The Peach-blossom Spring, 1582
    Shanghai Museum Collection


    As such, the composition is therefore evocative of the famed Chinese fable The Peach Blossom Spring: a story of a wanderer who stumbles into a hidden utopia where people live in spiritual harmony with nature, safe from the threats of the outside world. As illustrated by Ding Yunpeng in 1582, this secret haven was surrounded by fully bloomed peach blossoms that present an idyllic landscape, drawing similarities to the vastness demonstrated in the present work. At the same time, Peach Blossom vividly recalls the solitary and romanticised garden scenes extensively painted by Claude Monet, whom too, employs thick impasto spots of colour to paint his flowers, illuminated by strong contrasts of light and shadow that introduce layers of depth. 


    Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1916


    A Unique Synthesis of Western Expressionism and Traditional Chinese Technique 

    Wanting to stray away from the trending art movements that were dominating the 1980s Chinese art scene, Zhou left to study at Germany’s prestigious Kassel Academy of Fine Art, where he was exposed to Neo-Expressionism in its prime. He was immediately captivated by the movement’s vivid colour hues and violent gestural techniques, a method of working championed by artists including Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, and A.R. Penck. Baselitz's Ein wirklicher Wilhelm an der Ostee (1973) marks an interesting comparison to Zhou’s Peach Blossom, as it is also rendered in rosy colours that are sharply amplified by contrasting tones, executed in an expressive manner whereby you can distinctly see the artist's hand at work. 


    Georg Baselitz, Ein wirklicher Wilhelm an der Ostee, 1973

    “I have spoken about the differences between Eastern and Western cultures; I kind of like such dichotomy and would like to retain it in me.” 
    — Zhou Chunya

    While Zhou would adopt the Neo-expressionist aesthetics of bright tonal hues and spontaneous, corporeal brushwork, he uniquely merged this new method of working with his training in traditional Chinese techniques. As such, as showcased by both the majestic nature of Peach Blossom and the sincerity the canvas evokes, he successfully captures the sensitivity of literati painting whilst also reimaging its traditional framework. Ultimately, this unparalleled method of working infuses his paintings with distinct contemporary expressions, which is perfectly encapsulated by Peach Blossom, a visually stunning canvas that masterfully exemplifies his most distinguished motif. 


    Collector’s Digest 

    Attesting to the artist’s acclaimed oeuvre, Zhou has exhibited in prestigious venues throughout his career. Notably, this includes the Shanghai Gallery of Art; the National Art Museum in Beijing; and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Additionally, in 2010, Zhou was the subject of a major retrospective at the Shanghai Art Museum. His works continue to be avidly collected in public museums, with work by Zhou now found at the Tang Contemporary Art Center in Beijing.



    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Europe
      Private Collection, Europe
      Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 3 April 2017, lot 847
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Peach Blossom

signed and dated '2013 Zhou Chunya [in Chinese and Pinyin]' lower right
oil on canvas
150 x 200 cm. (59 x 78 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,800,000 - 5,800,000 

Sold for HK$7,268,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021