When Armand Hammer was due to meet with China’s premier, Deng Xiaoping, in the late 1980s, he did not have to think long about what would constitute a suitable gift. He took with him an early work by Chen Yifei, a young Chinese artist he had discovered in New York, who was (most untraditionally for a young Chinese artist in those days) painting in oil on canvas.
Now Bonhams will be selling another work by this artist – a massive 10ft by 6ft oil depicting two elegant ladies – at its sale of Chinese Classical and Modern Chinese Works of Art on November 17th in Hong Kong for an estimated HK$ 12,000,000 to 14,000,000 (£900,000 to £1m). The painting titled Two Reclining Beauties was bought by the current owner directly from the artist’s studio, brokered by legendary London dealers Marlborough Fine Art. This is the first time that it has been seen on the auction market.
The artist Chen Yifei marked the emergence of a radical new direction in the commercial market for Chinese art, painting Western-taste subjects in an oil medium which had not hitherto been at all popular in China.
Chen Yifei has never looked back from the patronage of a famous American collector, and his most expensive work sold two years ago for US$8m.
Armand Hammer (1898–1990) was a hugely successful American entrepreneur, most closely associated with Occidental Petroleum, a company he ran for decades. He was also well known for his art collecting and his philanthropy and his close ties to the Soviet Union.
Hammer’s business interests around the world and his “citizen diplomacy” helped him cultivate a wide network of friends and acquaintances.
Colin Sheaf, Bonhams Asia Chairman, comments: “Since 2007 we have dramatically increased range and quality of the finest Chinese art we offer in Hong Kong. By securing for sale this exceptional oil painting, a masterpiece by one of China’s most innovative and successful painters of the last fifty years, we demonstrate once again that Bonhams’ scholarship, marketing, sale presentation, and record prices are all very reassuring to top consignors around the world.”