Art has always been a medium that tells compelling stories, captures moments, and expresses emotions that touch a soul. Music, for centuries, does the same, through vocals and instrumental sounds.
Long before music has become as “official” or “refined” as it is today, Mother Nature was in fact, the foundation of it all. The sounds of the wind, rain, mountains, and forest, as well as the sounds of birds and beasts, were the raw sources of rhythm and melody.
Throughout Chinese history, music has played its multifaceted roles, from ritual, spiritual, social, to leisure. Zhou Li (The Rites of Zhou) from the Eastern Zhou period gives insights into the early developments of music in the shapes of the Eight Sounds, referring to the sounds emitted by the eight materials, namely, metal, stones, earth, animal hide, silk, wood, gourd, and bamboo.
December 1 will see Hong Kong’s first-ever fine Chinese works of art thematic auction dedicated to music. The “Eternal Resonance: Music in Chinese Art” presented by Bonhams is the debut auction of its kind. It will showcase a series of not just musical instruments, but a myriad of artworks encompassing porcelain, painting, calligraphy, and beyond - spanning from the Bronze age to the present time - to compose Chinese music connoisseurs and art spectators alike, a symphony of Chinese art, through aural aesthetics and timeless legacy.
The highlights of the sale include:
Lot 13 | “Taigu yuanyin”: a Confucius-style huanghuali and zitan inlaid hundred-patch guqin (Ming Dynasty)
Yu Bosun (1922-2013) collection
A Californian private collection, USA, acquired by the mother of the present owner from the above in 1981, and thence by descent
Estimate: HK$ 1,500,000 - 2,000,000
Guqin is one of the earliest stringed instruments in China. Traditionally regarded as one of the "Four Arts of the Scholar,”, alongside qi 棋 (chess), shu 書 (calligraphy) and hua 畫 (painting), qin 琴 (music) has been declared as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003. This qin on offer was in possession of the late qin master from the Sichuan region of China, Yu Bosun (1922-2013). This Zhongni-style one (also known as “Confucius-style”), is constructed with woods of warm and dark hues, cut hexagonally. This extremely rare technique is known as “bai na,” which translates as “hundred patches,” referring to the patchwork vestment worn by Buddhist monks.
Keason Tang, Specialist, Chinese Works of Art, Bonhams, performing for us with another guqin presented in the sale.
“The intricate mix of woods such as zitan, huanghuali, and hongmu, is not just pleasing to the eyes, but adds depths and complexity to the chords,” said Keason Tang, Head of Sale of Bonhams, as he placed his hands on the seven-stringed instrument.
Here is a video of Tang performing "Changmen Yuan," Lament at Changmen Palace (Yinyinshi Qinpu, 2000):
Lot 1 | Large archaic bronze ritual bell, yongzhong (Early Western Zhou Dynasty)
Paul E. Manheim (1906-1999), USA
Sotheby's New York, September 16, 2009, lot 101 (part lot)
Estimate: HK$ 400,000 - 600,000
This bronze ritual bell appears to be one of the earliest-known examples of two-tone bells with motifs decorated to indicate the striking point for a second tone. Only a few sets of early Western Zhou yongzhong bells were found in archaeological settings. According to Zhou Li (The Rites of Zhou), only kings, marquises, and other prestigious aristocratic groups were entitled to possess such bronze bells, and the number of sets allowed varied according to different royal titles.
Lot 5 | Lushan Phosphatic-Splashed Brown-Glazed Stoneware Drum (Tang Dynasty)
Estimate: HK$ 250,000 - 350,000
From folk dances to performances reserved for ancient Chinese aristocracy, drums gave energy and dynamics to any music and were also seen in traditional sacrifice ceremonies and dances back in the day.
This drum is an extremely rare surviving example of the phosphatic glaze-splashed ware produced in Lushan county, Henan province, during the Tang dynasty. The hourglass-shaped ceramic drum, instead of being carried around the waist, would have been placed on a wood stand, with drumheads made of animal skins.
Lot 33 | An inscribed kunqu opera bamboo flute, dizi
Jiajing, dated Guichou year (1553), signed Zhao Gaozi
Estimate: HK$ 200,000 - 300,000
Mention any traditional Chinese opera or modern Chinese orchestra, chances are, dizi, the Chinese transverse flute, has its part in it. Highly appreciated for their lingering and more mellow lyrical tone, dizi were used as the lead melodic instrument, especially for kunqu, a regional opera form in Southern China.
The finely-carved bamboo dizi presented in the sale can be dated back to as early as 1553, and is in impeccable condition, considering the decadent nature of bamboo. The reddish-brown tone patina also adds to the rustic elegance.
Lot 46 | “CHASE” in running script by Lin Xi (B. 1961)
Ink on paper, 82.5 x 63.4 cm
Estimate: HK$ 5,000 - 8,000
As speech and sounds develop, lyrics and melody are weaved together. Music engages us emotionally not just through instrumentation, but rather, on a holistic level - providing both textual and musical salience.
Albert Leung (b. 1961), more commonly known as Lin Xi, a prolific Hong Kong lyricst, presents his calligraphic representation of one of the most iconic songs in the history of Cantopop music. Lin wrote the song “Chase” for Leslie Cheung Kowk-wing (1956-2003) in 1995 and the song speaks to many locals.
The final stroke of the character flows with a sense of confidence and just like how music stands the test of time - as it creates resonances for many.
Eternal Resonance: Music in Chinese Art
Auction House: Bonhams Hong Kong
Venue: 20/F, One Pacific Place, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Auction: December 1, 2020 (2:30 pm)
Total no. of lots: 52
Viewing: November 27 - December 1, 2020