Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) is rightly lauded as both one of the most adept Chinese artists of the 20th century and one of its most prolific, a reputation that ensures his splashed ink landscapes are sought out by art aficionados the world over. So, when an extant example of his work – Manchurian Mountains – took centre stage at the recent Sotheby’s Fine Chinese Paintings auction in Hong Kong, the bidding war that ensued was no surprise.
Completed in 1969, this immense 2m x 1m landscape was originally gifted by Zhang to the daughter and son-in-law of Zhang Xueliang, an official in China’s Republican Army and a personal friend of the artist’s. Depicting the stunning Yiwulü Mountains in Northern China’s Liaoning province, its evergreen peaks were captured in beguiling mineral colours as a symbol of coming prosperity, with the snow-capped summits also signalling that auspicious times lay ahead.
Given its unsullied provenance and the fact that it was the first time this particular piece had ever come to auction, it is perhaps understandable that it inspired a truly staggering winning bid of HK$162 million – more than double its pre-sale estimate.