Zhou Chunya - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • For a long time, Zhou Chunya's oeuvre has been focused on subjects which emphasise vitality and life. From the blue skies and the yellow-green grasslands as the background, to the vibrant peach blossom forest in the foreground, to the passionate man and woman in the midground, Smell the Flowers presents a picture filled with layered meanings. The piece can even be regarded amongst Zhou's most tension-filled and comprehensive pieces, veiling a pair of lovers hiding within a gorgeous peach blossom forest. The painting depicts the liberation of primal instincts, both in the liveliness of the competing peach blossoms to the energy of the lovers. The strong rhythm of these figures fills the painting with an underlying erotic tension.


    Zhou's Red Man series began in the late 1990s, originating from the extension of the artist’s mid-1990s Mountain Stone series featuring stones stacked and twisted into human-like forms. The bright red colour deviates from the previous natural hues, employed to denote passion. The present work's figures rendered in sanguinous red hues is accompanied by a stark nakedness and sexual implicitness. With its strong sense of palette and bodies intertwined with lust, Smell the Flowers exhibits the artist's deepest desires. As the artist himself once said, these red people express the beauty of life.



    Egon Schiele, Lovers, 1914-15
    Collection of Leopold Museum, Vienna 

    In the late 1990s, Zhou started to introduce peach blossoms into his works, but most of them served as mere backgrounds. In the spring of 2005, he went to Longquanyi in the suburbs of Chengdu, where the sight of the mountains covered in peach blossoms left a deep impression on the artist. After this, peach blossoms suddenly were pushed to the fore of his works: the flowers follow a method of extreme fullness to make the picture literally bloom with excitement and vervour. At this time, Zhou explored the interconnectivity between peach blossoms and red figures, and merged the wild and amorous feelings of the peach blossoms with the burning excitement of lovers embracing each other amongst flowers, creating a fantasy-like world of erotic desire. Just like the outspread peach trees in Smell the Flowers, the arms of the lovers are mirrored, as if they are in full bloom as they embrace. The over all composition creates a strong and straightforward sensory experience. At the same time, it is also unapologetic in its subject matter, showing love and lust at a glance. On the one hand, the painting is Zhou’s projection of the beauty of his own life; on the other hand, it is also the product of his pursuit to release and capture people's desire. The picture exudes passion and vibrance of scenery, forming the charm behind Zhou's works.


    Piet Mondrian, The Grey Tree, 1911
    The Collection of the Haags Gemeentemuseum,The Hague

    In Smell the Flowers, the twisted peach trunk is like a condensed expression of traditional calligraphic lines, and the brushwork shows the free and organic sprawling of branches and roots, while the scattered momentum contains abundant energy. In addition, Zhou presents the difference of space with varying brushstroke densities. The flat ground below is emerald grass interspersed with countless vertical brushstrokes, while the sky above is made up of rosy clouds with alternating light and dark, purple-tinged blocks. The result of this combination of abstract and concrete is one that evokes landscape patterns in traditional Chinese paintings. Even though the artist uses the expressive skills of Western painting and uses pointed colours to express his emotions, he has always been rooted in the traditional roots of China: and in his arrangement of lines and space, the basic techniques of traditional Chinese painting can be found. His paintings advocate passion and emphasise individuality, by absorbing, blending and transforming Eastern and Western traditions and combining them to form a unique vocabulary of contemporary Chinese painting.



    Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows, 1890
    Collection of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam


    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Shanghai Art Museum, 1971-2010 Forty Years Retrospective Review of Zhou Chunya, 13 - 23 June 2010

    • Literature

      Hong Lei, ed., Zhou Chunya, Hong Kong, 2010, pp. 540-541 (illustrated)

Property from an Eminent Private Asian Collection


Smell the Flowers

signed and dated '2008 Zhou Chunya [in Chinese and Pinyin]' lower right
oil on canvas
200 x 250 cm. (78 3/4 x 98 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2008.

Full Cataloguing

HK$5,000,000 - 7,000,000 

Sold for HK$6,905,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

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

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021