The poem reads:
Plum blossoms one by one on a rainy day, in April,
without snow, they are alone and quiet.
Dreams cannot reach the river shore of Huainan.
Blue rock and branches, charming and beautiful.
Wind does not change the green of the flowers and leaves.
Spring colors all around stir one to happiness.
This painting was the first work by Shi Lu acquired by Robert Ellsworth and remained his favorite, displayed in pride of place in his study in his Fifth Avenue home.
PRUNUS BRANCH AND ROCK
Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and color on silk
"In my estimation, Shi Lu is China's greatest twentieth-century artist, although his creative period lasted a mere eighteen years." -Robert H. Ellsworth (Robert. H. Ellsworth, Later Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy: 1800-1950, New York, 1986, vol. 1. p. 31.)
The painter and calligrapher Shi Lu (1919-1982) developed one of the most distinctive and innovative styles in Chinese modern paintings. His angular and crackling brushwork, his unexpected compositions, and his use of saturated tones, whether in ink or color, together formed completely unique imagery. From the time that he first acquired a painting by Shi Lu in the late 1970s, Robert H. Ellsworth became one of the artist’s greatest fans and assembled one of the largest collections of Shi Lu’s works.
Shi Lu, originally named Feng Yaheng, was born into a wealthy, educated family in Sichuan province. In his youth he studied Chinese traditional painting under the introduction of his older brother Feng Jianwu. In 1937, when Yaheng was eighteen years old, and after his father’s death, his mother forced him to marry an illiterate country girl, Zhang Airu, with whom he had been engaged at the age of twelve. Yaheng resisted unsuccessfully several times. Finally, he went through with the marriage ceremony but refused the consummation. He ran away from home for Chengdu three days later.
In 1939, he was twenty years old and traveled to Yan’an. His family believed he was dead and continued to hold annual memorials. His wife, Zhang Airu, meanwhile, continued to live in the Feng family home as “ninth aunt.” When Feng Yaheng moved to Shanxi province in 1939, he became active in the Communist party and participated in the war efforts through the visual and dramatic arts. At this time, he took the sobriquet Shi Lu, from the names of the figures he most revered: the artist Shitao (1642-1707) and the modern author Lu Xun (1881-1936). After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Shi Lu worked as an artist and art educator. In 1951, Shi Lu was thirty-two years old and was appointed as president of the Northwestern Pictorial office. In that same year, he returned home with his brother Feng Jianwu and convinced his family to permit him to divorce Zhang Airu finally.
During the Cultural Revolution, Shi Lu was singled out as a counter-revolutionary artist and was punished and sent to a labor camp. During that time he suffered a mental breakdown. Although Shi Lu was eventually rehabilitated, he never regained his physical or emotional health.
Shi Lu’s Prunus Branch and Rock was the first work by the artist that Robert Ellsworth purchased, and it remained hanging in his study where he could admire it daily. While Mr. Ellsworth never met Shi Lu, a friend in Hong Kong had a direct relationship with a person close to the artist. Between the late 1970s and into the early 1990s, Mr. Ellsworth acquired most of his paintings and calligraphy by Shi Lu from this source. In total Mr. Ellsworth’s collection included several dozen works by Shi Lu. Several were gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1986 as part of his large bequest of Chinese modern paintings, 48 were exhibited by Christie’s in 2011, and others were sold over the years. These that remain and are offered here, including Prunus Branch and Rock and the three intimate albums, were those that Robert Ellsworth kept close and enjoyed often.
Mason M. Wang
Consultant and Collector of Chinese Works of Art
Inscribed with a poem and signed by the artist, with one painted seal
1900s, Paintings, paper, China, Modern, flowers & plants
CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART
51 1/4 x 26 1/4 in. (130.1 x 66.6 cm.)
Anita Christy, "Not for Sale: A Few of Robert Ellsworth's Favourite Possessions," Orientations, June 1991, fig. 10.
Christie’s, The Beauty of Art: Paintings and Calligraphy by Shi Lu from the Private Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, New York, 2011, p. 42.
This lot is offered without reserve.