Unusual Chinese art image no. 90 The wrist rest

Mao wrist rest2 lr The wrist rest, historically, was a valued accoutrement on the scholar’s desk. It came in many forms: wood, ivory and, even, jade and served the purpose suggested by its name as the scholar inscribed, wrote and painted. This is a rather more modern version. It dates from 1967 or 1968 and celebrates the great leader (as he was seen at that time) Mao Tse Tung at the height of his charismatic power in the days of The Cultural Revolution. This one is a rather up market souvenir made for local consumption within China.

Picture courtesy www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk

Mao still remains an adored cult figure immortalised in statuary

Mao busts at museum Taiyuan Shanxi Prov Orientally YoursThere is a museum dedicated to the memory of Mao Tse Tung in Taiyuan in China’s Shanxi Province. Here is a display of small busts and figures. Such statuary has been made, and is still being made, as souvenirs and keepsakes. There are still many Mao followers about despite widespread controversy of his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution policies which, many people think, caused widespread distress and death amongst fellow Chinese.

Shao shan HunanManufacturing busts and staues of Mao still goes on. A photo taken in a factory in his home town of Shaoshan.

tumblr_oon2xxjYAi1rrpskqo3_1280 Dang Guihong owns a vast collection of materials related to the Cultural Revolution. Here he is pictured with a part of his collection at his home in Yuncheng, Shanxi Province.

mao-best-low-res This is thought to be a unique two-thirds life size porcelain statue of Mao Tse Tung. One of just two made in Jingdezhen and numbered ‘2’, it is dated October 1 1967, when the Cultural Revolution was at its height. It is being offered by Chinese Art in Scotland at a cool £500,000 (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk). The problems in making such a large white porcelain piece are legion and there would have been many failures {possibly as many as a hundred) in the process of making and firing this successful version. It was formerly housed in the Chinese Embassy in Rome.

Revivalism in modern China means Mao Zedong is still very much revered, and he is already commemorated with statues across the country and a portrait over Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In 2013, to mark the 120th anniversary of his birth, a solid gold incarnation worth 200 million yuan (£20 million) was inaugurated in his home village of Shaoshan, with busloads of followers flocking to pay tribute.

‘Unique’ white porcelain statue of Mao Tse Tung to be offered for £500,000 at AFE

An almost life-size white porcelain statue of legendary Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung is to be offered for sale at half a million pounds (sterling) at next month’s Antiques for Everyone Fair: Art, Antiques, Interiors Fair at London’s Excel Exhibition Centre. It is said to be quite possibly ‘unique’ and the only survivor of an edition of just two made in 1967.

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The statue was produced in October 1967 to the order of the Chinese government. It is now owned by Scottish investment company Coldingham Investments Ltd, which has extensive interests in the Chinese art market. Explains managing director Paul Harris, ‘We know that two of these statues were made but there is no trace now of the other one which went to Chinese government offices after completion. This statue of China’s controversial leader may well be unique.

‘It is dated October 1967 which was a landmark time for China as the Cultural Revolution was launched. It is a ‘heroic’ interpretation of Mao at the height of his adulation. As such, it is a vitally important historical relic.’

The 1.42m-tall white-glazed statue is accurate down to every last detail, including the birthmark on Mao’s face. The subject wears the legendary ‘Mao jacket’ with every button faithfully replicated. For many years this statue graced the halls of the Chinese Embassy in Rome but was removed from show when the great leader fell from favour. It is in perfect condition.

According to researches carried out by the vendors, it was made in 1967 in China’s porcelain capital, Jingdezhen. Says Paul Harris, ‘It is notoriously difficult to make a white porcelain statue of this very large size. Accordingly, large numbers could not be manufactured. This perfect example would probably have been preceded by dozens of failures during the firing process. We know of no other surviving examples.’

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The 50 year-old statue is inscribed with the brave legend ‘May Mao Tse Tung live for 10,000 years’. It bears the number ‘2’ and and also bears the date October 1967.

It will be on show at AFE, the first London edition of AFE which has enjoyed a successful run in Birmingham for many years, with an unveiling on Stand E5 (Paul Harris Asia Arts) on the morning of January 13. AFE takes place at the Excel Exhibition Centre in the east of London January 13-15.

Further details may be had by emailing paul@chineseart.co.uk.

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Bonhams offer Warhol’s Chairman Mao

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Bonhams will lead the Post-War and Contemporary Art season with a spectacular Andy Warhol painting of Chairman Mao, estimated at £580,000-780,000, to be offered at New Bond Street on 29 June.

The stunning, densely-textured painting comes fresh to the market having originally been handled by the artist’s legendary dealer Leo Castelli in the 1970s. The distinctive coloration and clarity of composition makes this arguably the finest of the series ever to appear at auction. Renowned as one of Warhol’s most significant, signature images, the Mao paintings feature in many of the world’s most prestigious public and private collections worldwide.

Warhol was transfixed by the People’s Republic of China in 1971. ‘I have been reading so much about China,’ he said at the time. ‘The only picture they ever have is of Mao Zedong. It’s great. It looks like a silkscreen.’ Inspired, Warhol made his first picture of the communist leader the following year. The Mao series is based on a photograph taken from the cover of The Thoughts of Chairman Mao – otherwise known as the Little Red Book, of which almost a billion copies were printed in China, leading to an acute paper shortage during the Cultural Revolution. During the early seventies, Warhol used to carry the Little Red Book around in his pocket. Eric Shiner, director of the Andy Warhol museum, describes the artist as ‘smitten with communism – with everyone wearing the same clothes and reading the same books’.

In the early 1970s, after a decade of screenprinting, Warhol returned to painting. His Maos tend to be more painterly than his earlier pop art, developing from the relentless replication of the 60s into more personalised, one-off works combining silkscreens with gestural painted additions. This particular piece has unusually thick impasto, with expressive brushwork in subtle blue hues and a halo of vivid scarlet interrupting the almost blinding vibrancy of the acid green background.

‘It is one of the finest – if not the finest – example of Warhol’s small format Maos out there,’ said Ralph Taylor, Senior Director for the Bonhams Post-War & Contemporary Art department. ‘It’s an absolute classic, brilliantly executed, with sterling provenance. Collectors who target the very best will find much to admire with this painting.’

Works depicting Chairman Mao appear to be the subject of growing demand in China. Last month a rare porcelain statue came on the market and is currently beng offered by Chinese Art in Scotland (www.chineseartinscotland.co.uk) for a six figure sum.

May auctions (26) Statue of Chairman Mao also on offer

Published today, an atmospheric fictional account of the days of Mao and the Stars Art Movement

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Brushstrokes in Time by Sylvia Vetta, Claret Press www.claretpress.com Paperback £7.99

I suppose I did not find this an easy read. This is a story which starts in that most turbulent time in 20th century China during the days of the excesses of the Red Guards and The Gang of Four, all presided over by Mao Tse Tung at his most ruthless and insouciant. Many of these passages are intensely disturbing to the reader: a mark of the success of the author, Sylvia Vetta, in taking us back to this traumatic time of fear and loathing. As the book moves on to the late 1970s and the short-lived The Stars Art Movement, there is time for some humour amongst the repression of the artists and their supporters. For a while, optimism flourishes.

At one level it is a bitter critique of the political process in China, at another a reminder of the tortuous development of the artistic process in a country which had long repressed individualism. At yet another, it is the story of the young and sensitive Xiaodong (trs. ‘Little Winter’), her loss of innocence and her painful rites of passage. The schoolgirl Xiadong recounts, ‘I went on the rampage. At the back of an old temple were niches filled with little statues of Buddha. Over excited, we smashed the heads off. It didn’t feel right but my friends were screaming with excitement . . . Our holy places were where Chairman Mao had walked, lived or swam . . .’.

Seen through the eyes of a young girl born to be an artist, there is a constant disturbing ring of authenticity about this book. Much of that, I giuess, can be traced back to the genesis of this book when Sylvia Vetta met Qu Leilei, himself one of the Stars, and a series of long interviews resulted.

Brushstrokes in Time066

The climax of this book comes as The Stars display their paintings, woodcuts and sculptures outside the National Gallery in 1979 in an act of impetuous boldness. That, of course, actually did happen. But we have to remember this is a novel and not a factual account. Perhaps because it is so skilfully executed by Sylvia Vetta, I had considerable difficulty in seeing this book just as a novel: the suspension of disbelief is challenging as we meet the various real participants in the Star Art Movement, including the now internationally renowned Ai Weiwei. When the author writes of the actions of the fictional characters like Ai Weiwei, Qu Leilei, Ma Desheng, Huang Rui, Yan Li, Bo Yun and Wang Keping, who were actual participants in the Movement, I found myself saying, ‘Did Ai Weiwei really do that?’, ‘Is this drawn from fact, or is it simply fiction?’ Of course, it is a bit of both.

This is a problem with this book, the problem of the invisible coalescing of fact and fiction. For me that raises more questions than answers. Perhaps I am being over critical. It should certainly be on the ‘must read’ list of anyone interested in the politics and the art of 20th century China. The Stars were crucial in provoking change in China: not just in art but in politics and consciousness. What about another book, drawing upon your excellent sources, Sylvia: the real story of The Stars Art Movement?

Paul Harris

Mao Tse-Tung letter sold at Sotheby’s for £605,000

Strictly speaking, it may not be art but a letter from Mao Tse Tung to British Labour Party leader Clement Attlee has challenged some of the higher prices in the market for Chinese bygones.

A 1937 letter from Chinese Communist Party leader Mao to Attlee, has sold at Sotheby’s London rooms for £605 000.

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Excerpt from Chairman Mao’s letter to Clemet Attlee Image courtesy Sotheby’s

In the letter, Mao asks Attlee to help him battle against Japanese troops invading China. The typed letter reads: “We believe that the British people, when they know the truth about Japanese aggression in China, will rise in support of the Chinese people, will organise practical assistance on their behalf, and will compel their own government to adopt a policy of active resistance to a danger that ultimately threatens them no less than ourselves.”

mao letter

Mao’s letter, which has an extremely rare example of Mao’s signature (above), was sent to Atlee through the journalist James Bertram, along with a note to Attlee asking him to to “keep the enclosed letter, if only as a curiosity.”

The lot, which went under the hammer at Sotheby’s London premises, had an estimate of £100,000-150,000, was bought by a Chinese private collector who obvioulsy thought, at over £600,000, it was certainly a curiosity worth acquiring.

The sale was timed following the widely publicised four-day visit to the UK by Chinese President Xi Jinping in October, when interest in Chinese history is at a high in the UK. Not high enough, however, to keep it here!

Last month, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell famously threw a copy of the Chinese Communist Party leader’s Little Red Book at Chancellor George Osborne in Parliament, as he claimed UK assets were being sold to China.

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Mao Tse Tung   Photo courtesy Bettman/Corbis

 

Will these be the most expensive milk bottles in the world?

A pair of extremely rare porcelain milk bottles, dating back to the Chinese Communist era of Mao Tse Tung, are being offered by Chiswick Auctions in their upcoming Asian Art sale on September 1 2015.

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Thickly potted, with a swelling body, a thick neck and slightly flaring mouth, and covered overall with a thick creamy white glaze, with stencilled lettering in underglaze cobalt blue reading “Beijing City Milk Company, Chao Niu Yoghurt”. The bottles, which measure 11cm high, date to the 1960s when China was under the rule of Chairman Mao Tse Tung.

“So-called ‘Communist era’ material is experiencing a revival with contemporary designers plastering Communist slogans over everything from T-shirts to kitchen towels,” Chiswick’s Asian Art specialist, Lazarus Halstead explains, “But what makes this pair special is that, despite its utilitarian form, it is an exclusive and elite object from the heart of Communist China which tells a unique story.”

The pieces come from the collection of a diplomatic family. The present owner acquired the milk bottles as a child living with diplomatic parents in Beijing in the 1960s. At the time milk was strictly rationed available only to a select few foreign diplomats and government officials from the highest ranks of the Communist party. The bottles, property of the State, would never normally have been kept and their survival is the result purely of a young child’s whim.

The pieces will be offered with a very cautious estimate of £100 – £200. If you manage to get them for that, you might well be the cat that gets the cream . . .

Warhol’s ‘Mao’ for sale at Art Basel Miami

As Art Basel Miami closed yesterday, Andy Warhol’s classic image of Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung was still for sale at $US15-18m., negotiable.

mao by warhol

Warhol completed a series of oil paintings of the Chinese leader shortly after President Nixon’s ground breaking visit to China in 1972. The paintings have increased in value dramatically in recent years. In the year 2000, one achieved £421,500. However, in February of this year auctioneers Sotheby’s sold one for £7.6m. A price in the region of US$15-18m. would not, of course, bring such a rapid escalation but might well see a growth of 10-20%.

The painting for sale at the moment is available from New York’s Acquavella Galleries.

Unusual Chinese art image 27 Maoist propaganda poster

socialist realism Mao poster Cultural Revn

A particularly powerful and impressive propaganda poster issued in China during the late 1970s, at the peak of the so-called Cultural Revolution. Such posters draw upon earlier Soviet Realism for their inspiration. Today, they are, of course, collectors’ pieces.This is a particularly effective example of the genre with Mao Tse Tung, heroic size, surrounded by his ‘children’ who variously display excitement, adoration and dedication.