Renowned Chinese Painter Fu Baoshi's Work Dominates Beijing Auction Week

The late Chinese traditional figure painter and landscapist Fu Baoshi headlined two of the largest auctions that took place in Beijing last week. 

The first scene-stealer was Fu’s tribute to another leading Chinese artist that he admired - Shi Tao. Aptly named Shi Tao Thatched Cottage, also chosen by China Guardian as the cover of the auction’s catalog, was sold at a whopping RMB 138m (US$21m) with premium.

The jaw-dropping achievement carried on to another saleroom of Beijing Poly International Auction, just three days later, which saw another work by Fu that reached the RMB 100m mark, and was sold at RMB 104.6m (US$16m) with premium.

 

Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) | Two Goddesses of the River Xiang, 1946

Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper 

165 × 43.5 cm

Estimate upon request

Hammer price: RMB 91,000,000 
Price realized: RMB 104,650,000

Auction house: Beijing Poly International Auction

Date: December 4, 2020

 

Fu Baoshi's Shi Tao Thatched Cottage, crowned as top lot at China Guardian last week

 

The fact that both of Fu’s works were crowned as the top lots of the evenings should come as no surprise, as the traditional tableaux painter's works are highly sought-after by enthusiastic Chinese collectors.

Born in Xinyu, China, in 1904, Fu Baoshi’s artistic journey was influenced by numerous historical moments of China - from the overthrow of China’s last imperial dynasty, the Second Sino-Japanese War, to the establishment of modern China. The turbulent times and upheavals he witnessed added to the depth of his oeuvre spanning the arc of his artistic career.

Having had his artistic trainings in both China and Japan, the artist’s works conflate the ancient Chinese historical allusions and the meticulous brushwork techniques, especially prominent with his figure paintings. 

 

Fu Baoshi (1904-1965)

 

Two Goddesses of the River Xiang (partial)

 

Gracing the cover of Poly Beijing’s autumn sale catalog this year is Two Goddesses of the River Xiang by Fu Baoshi. He took inspiration from one of the poems attributed to Qu Yuan, a renowned poet from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) of ancient China. 

Jiu Ge, or “Nine Songs,” despite the collective title, is composed of 11 individual poems based around a number of deities, with two of the goddesses from the verses of poems being the inspiration of this present hanging scroll. 

The goddesses are mythological figures that were believed to be married to Emperor Shun, one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. The Emperor's passing drove the two goddesses to such despair that they took their lives near River Xiang. The romantic fiction had then become one of the common subjects in the artist's trajectory. The present painting captures the nobility of the two feminine figures.

 

Two Goddesses of the River Xiang (partial)

Two Goddesses of the River Xiang (partial)

 

Two Goddesses of the River Xiang was curated by the end of the painter’s pinnacle of the his career in 1946. Often regarded as the “Jin Gangpo period” (1939-1946), when the artist moved to Chongqing during the Japanese invasion and occupation of eastern China during World War II. 

During Fu’s refuge in Chongqing, the city’s poignant landscape inspired him for his indigenous dry free texture strokes that were subsequently developed into his distinctive style, when depicting the majestic landscape of soaring mountains and surging rivers.

The two goddesses are frequently spotted in Fu’s oeuvre, including one of the remarkable works currently in collections held by The Palace Museum in Beijing:

 

Fu Baoshi (1904–1965) | The Lady of the River Xiang, 1943

Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper

105.2 x 60.8 cm

Collection of The Palace Museum


 

Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) | Shi Tao Thatched Cottage, 1942

Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper

Painting: 84.5 × 58.5 cm

Postscripts: 23 × 58.5 cm

Estimate upon request

Hammer price: RMB 120,000,000

Price realized: RMB 138,000,000

Auction house: China Guardian Auctions

Date: December 1, 2020

 

The nine-figure hammer was notched for an earlier literati painting by Fu Baoshi, also crowned as the top lot at China Guardian’s evening sale this fall - Shi Tao Thatched Cottage. What lies front and center of this remarkable piece is the powerful essence projected by the tall, verdant trees, yet a closer look reveals the solitary of Shi Tao - a Qing dynasty painter that Fu revered - as he is looking out of the thatched cottage in the woods.

 

Shi Tao Thatched Cottage (partial)

Shi Tao Thatched Cottage (partial)

 

Ink splashes, instead of forming a calculated composition. The robust and gestural brushwork of the trunk modulates the fine precisions shown in Shi Tao’s portrayal. 

The painting also bears postscripts by Xu Beihong, another celebrated traditional Chinese painter who was known for his horse paintings, a friend of Fu Baoshi. Embodying the friendship between the two great artists, Shi Tao Thatched Cottage is truly a rare find.

 

Shi Tao Thatched Cottage (partial) - postscripts by Xu Beihong (1895-1953)

 

Alongside some 400 paintings by Fu Baoshi, both Two Goddesses of the River Xiang and Shi Tao Thatched Cottage were in the possession of the Fu’s family until the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Since then, the present works were seen in major exhibitions internationally. 

The highest-priced work that still holds the artist’s record is The God of Cloud and the Great Lord of Fate, which realized RMB 230m (US$31.1m) in spring 2016.

 

The God of Cloud and the Great Lord of Fate, 1954

114 × 315 cm sold for RMB 230,000,000 (US$35,104,000), spring 2016.