Skinner Inc.

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Treasures of the Trained Eye: An Amateur Artist’s Collection of Fine Chinese Paintings

[Detail] Twelve Flower Painting Leaves from an Album, China (Estimate $5,000-$7,000)

[Detail] Twelve Flower Painting Leaves from an Album, China (Estimate $5,000-$7,000)

Our May 16th Asian Works of Art auction is bursting with flowers, birds, and butterflies, representing birds and flowers of the four seasons, a common theme in Chinese painting. China is a culture rich with the symbolic meaning of plants and animals which are celebrated in paintings and poetry. Flowers convey positive messages and play a significant role in daily life. Plum is a symbol of endurance, orchid of integrity, nobility, and friendship, and peony of riches, prosperity, and honor; these flowers were all favorites of artists. Birds and butterflies, often depicted along with flowers, symbolize freedom, happiness, commitment, and love—birds promise new opportunities that are always there for you even in times of adversity. After our long, harsh winter, we are delighted to see flowers, birds, and butterflies promising much of the good fortune, happiness, and new beginnings symbolic in Chinese culture.

The group of albums and other paintings from the estate of Kai Suhr offered in our sale delight the eye and astonish the viewer. An amateur painter, Kai Suhr, a Dane, travelled China between the years 1938-1939 selling machinery to Chang Kai-shek’s army. Along the way, he purchased many fine paintings attesting to his keen eye.

Lot 253, twelve album leaves, is one of six fine examples of bird and flower paintings in the sale. The flowers are rendered in an elegant boneless brush technique. The realism depicted in each leaf illustrates the utmost skill of the artist and his mastery of one of the most difficult brush techniques.  Other lots depicting bird and flower paintings are: 247, 249, 251, 255, and 256.

Not limiting himself to bird and flower paintings, Mr. Suhr purchased other painting styles. Lots 250 and 252 are ink paintings done by amateur scholar painters that combine painting, poetry and calligraphy. Again, steeped with symbolism; lot 252 depicts geese among reeds, a symbol of the scholar’s retreat into a long, comfortable life; while lot 250 symbolizes his scholarly pursuit of integrity, material abundance, and reclusiveness with the depiction of bamboo and plum, grapevines with squirrels, and misty landscapes.

Illustrated Novel of Xixiangji, The Romance of the Western Chamber, China, in the manner of Qiu Ying (1494-1551) and Wen Peng (1498-1573) (Lot 246, Estimate $10,000-$15,000)

Illustrated Novel of Xixiangji, The Romance of the Western Chamber, China, in the manner of Qiu Ying (1494-1551) and Wen Peng (1498-1573) (Lot 246, Estimate $10,000-$15,000)

Another highlight from the collection is Lot 246, a narrative album depicting “The Romance of the Western Chamber,” a celebrated love story written during the thirteenth century. Of unparalleled popularity, the story of star-crossed love was depicted throughout the succeeding centuries by artists, playwrights, and writers. Each of the twenty leaves depicts a scene accompanied by a titled episode written in beautiful calligraphy on the opposite page. Painted in deep azurite blue and malachite green in the “gongbi” painting style, the album again attests to the trained eye of Mr. Suhr.

We are delighted to offer this exceptional, fresh-to-the-market collection. It illustrates Kai Suhr’s talent for finding beauty at a time when China was in a state of chaos and revolution.

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