Chinese Paintings Fall 1997

By Carter B. Horsley

Despite a rejuvenated art market, the Chinese Paintings auctions this fall in New York were not successes.

The Sept. 19, 1997 Christie's sale barely brought in half of the low pre-sale estimate and only 87 of 173 lots in the catalogue sold.

At Sotheby's, the sale of 37 works from the C. C. Wang Family Collection of Important Chinese Paintings to Benefit a Charitable Trust suffered a similar fate three days later. Only 18 of the works sold for a total of $1,215,400, just barely over half what the pre-sale low estimate had been.

One leading collector remarked that the works being offered were "really not that good" and had estimates were on the high side and another noted recent controversies over the C. C. Wang collection. An article by Carl Nagin in The New Yorker magazine quoted a noted expert, James Cahill, as having attribution problems with the centerpiece of a recent acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art of a group of paintings from the C. C. Wang family, questions that had been raised previously in an article in The City Review, which has run a series of articles about controversial attributions involving paintings that had been owned by C. C. Wang.

C. Wang, who is 90, attended the exhibition at Sotheby's where his grandson, Andrew Wang, is a "specialist" in the Chinese Painting department and was also present.


Some of the paintings that had been attributed by the auction house as "Anonymous (Sung/Yuan Dynasty) did relatively well and sold within the estimates as did the cover illustration, lot 19, "Thatched Hut Under the Wutong Tree" by :Tang Yin (1470-1523) that had been estimated at $200,000 to $250,000 and sold for $222,500. A hanging scroll "attributed to Zhang Cheng (10th/11th Century) of Buddhist Deities sold for $47,150 and had been estimated at $25,000 to $30,000. Another hanging scroll, "Bamboo and Rock," attributed to "Wu Zhen (1280-1354) also did well, selling for $82,250, over its high pre-sale estimate of $70,000. Another success was "Landscape After Li Tang" by "Xie Shichen (1488-1567) that had been estimated at $180,000 to $200,000 and sold for $200,500, including the buyer's premium.

But many of the auction's anticipated stars fared poorly: Lot 12, a hanging scroll by "Zhu Da (1626-1705), entitled "Deer Viewing Pine," had been estimated at $80,000 to $120,000 and passed; a "Landscape" hanging scroll by "Dai Jin (1388-1462) had been estimated at $120,000 to $150,000 and passed; "Egrets Under Willow Tree with Birds and Flowers," by Lu Ji (1477-?) had been estimated at $140,000 to $160,000 and passed; "Snowy Mountain Landscape," a handscroll by Shen Zhou (1427-1509) had been estimated at $300,000 to $350,000 and passed; and "Landscape," a hanging scroll ascribed by the auction house to "Shitao (1642-1707), and bearing the seal of Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), had been estimated at $200,000 to $250,000 and passed. Another passed handscroll was "Landscape Inspired by Du Fu" by "Wu Li (1632-1718)." It had been estimated at $150,000 to $180,000.

At Christie's, one of the major lots that passed was lot 57, "Storm over the Xiang River," a handscroll by "Xia Chang (1388-1470) that bore a label, frontispiece and 13 collector's seals of Zhang Daqian, who had published and illustrated it in his famous "Da feng tang mingui," (Masterpieces of Chinese Paintings from the Da Feng Tang collection, Kyoto," Korean, 1955-6. Zhang Daqian, who died in 1988, had two large works, one in each sale, that he claimed were his own, that also passed.

A hanging scroll by Wang Meng, "Brewing Tea," lot 68, had an "Estimate on Request," usually indicative of works expected to sell for more than $1 million, but it passed.

A group of vibrant studies by Qi Baishi (1863-1957) sold well with most reaching their high estimates and a few significantly moving beyond.


Chinagate, an update on controversy over Chinese Paintings bought from C.C. Wang by Metropolitan Museum of Art

Original edited, but unpublished New York Times story on Chinese painting controversy

Truncated story on controversy as it appeared in The New York Times

Chinagate Revisited, Museum acquires more Chinese paintings from C.C. Wang

Page Six of The New York Post reports on The City Review stories

Major Donor of Chinese paintings at Metropolitan threatens to withdraw them

The City Review makes Page Six of The New York Post for the second time in four days. 

The imperfect, but impressive Metropolitan

The New Yorker magazine quotes expert with serious doubts about centerpiece of recent Tang gift, doubts that were first raised in The City Review, and discloses that C. C. Wang plans to auction 40 works at Sotheby's where his grandson is the "resident Chinese-painting expert."

Orientations Magazine runs two long commentaries on controversial acquisition of The Riverbank by the Metropolitan Museum

Orientations Magazine does not run letter from The City Review on Chinagate

 The Institute of Art and Law in England has an excellent website worth visiting

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