China Guardian Auctions Co.Ltd. > 2009 Spring Auctions > Chinese Oil Paintings and Sculptures
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  Oil on canvas
Size: 189×159cm
Estimate: RMB 4,000,000-5,000,000
Price: RMB 7,952,000
Shen Jiawei (b.1948-)Born in Shanghai, Shen Jaiwei attained his primary education in Jiaxing of Zhejiang province: Jiaxing Jianse Central Primary School (1951-1960), Jiaxing No.2 Secondary School(now Xiuzhou Secondary School, 1960 - 1963), and finally, Jiaxing No.1 Secondary School (1963 -1966), where he stayed four further years during the Cultural Revolutionary years. It is from then Shen started experimenting with his brush. He was called to the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts to paint propaganda work for months in 1969. In June 1970, he joined millions of young volunteers to the Heilongjiang construction Corps and was distributed to the 42nd Regiment (now the 857 Farm) where he was nominated as the propagandist painter by the Propaganda Unit of the Regiment one year after. From 1971 to 1976, He was regularly required to paint propaganda art works in the Division and the Corps headquarters in Mishan and Jaiamus. His painting Standing Guard for Our Great Motherland, completed in this period (1974) received nationwide acclaims and destined to stand out as one of the most painting works representing of the Cultural Revolution era. In January 1989, Shen came to Australia to study English and later settled in Bundeena, an artistic village, in South Sydney. Now Shen is living and working in Sydney and Beijing.
Standing Guard for Our Great Motherland (1974) is one of the most representative works from the Cultural Revolution era, and it is the most important work by Shen, bringing him fame internationally. The work was selected to be shown at the National Art Exhibition for the 25th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China, sponsored by the cultural department under the State Council. Since then the painting has gained national recognition. After receiving wide acclaim, Shen wrote an article summarizing his experience; entitled Creating a Heroic Image at the Anti-revisionist Outpost, it was published by Yishu in 1995. In 1982, Standing Guard was returned to the artist himself through various organizational initiatives, including help from the National Art Museum of China and the Heilongjiang Artists’ Association. When the painting was returned, Shen found that the original framing was gone, and the canvas wrinkled, with much of its color lost. Additionally, the work had watermarks. The extensive damage to the painting left Shen in shock. Shen carefully wrapped up the painting and put it under the bed for 15 years.
Then, in 1997, Julia F. Andrews, curator of China: 5000 Years exhibition’s modern section at the Guggenheim Museum, contacted Shen through the introduction of Han Xin, Shen’s good friend. Dr. Andrews invited Shen, who by this time had been living in Australia for eight years, to participate in her exhibition. Organized by the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China and the Guggenheim Museum, China: 5000 Years was one of the most important art exhibitions of Chinese art in some time, a survey ranging from the Neolithic period to the most recent trends. Shen arranged to bring the painting from Beijing to Sydney, where he began its restoration: “I took it to the conservation department of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and there, for the first time, I unrolled it completely” (Shen Jiawei,“The Fate of a Painting”). Under the guidance of the conservation department, the artist slowly and painstakingly restored the painting to its original state.
In 1998, Standing Guard was brought into the limelight; shown at museums overseas, the painting attracted immense interest from critics, curators, and new and old audiences. Shen felt compelled to write a detailed article concerning the history of the painting:“The Fate of a Painting.” The lengthy, personal essay narrates the story of Standing Guard, the artist’s experiences and thoughts. The text added to the public understanding of the work and provided important facts for the study of a major work from the Cultural Revolution.
Standing Guard is a classic work from the Cultural Revolution era, capturing basic features of artistic production from the time. In its expression, perspective, and figurative portrayals, Shen produced a work that reflects the principle of combining revolutionary realism and romanticism. He also focuses on the central heroic characters. At the time, in recognition of such political themes as being vigilant, protectionist, anti-imperialist and anti-revisionist, the artist portrayed border patrol solders on guard according to Chinese artistic precepts: the painting’s style is “high, big, and comprehensive”, accompanied by a treatment characterized as “red, bright, and shining” (hong, guang, liang). Further, Shen’s portrayal came from direct observation, a careful concept, and the imitation of Soviet Union oil techniques. By working this way, he departed from the creative guidelines from the Cultural Revolution.
Perhaps Standing Guard stood out because the painting has a clear theme and visual detailing. It was selected to participate in the national art exhibition in 1974. But, unfortunately, in order to further enhance the detailing, the organizers of the exhibition had the two main figures in Standing Guard retouched. Their faces were widened in order to show greatness of character. The painters also deepened the contours of their noses and lips in order to emphasize the soldiers’vigilance toward and hatred of the revisionism and imperialism of the Soviet Union across the river; their rosy cheeks in the twilight were replaced by a layer of pink color, symbolizing their bravery and heroism.
It is said that while Jiang Qing was very satisfied with several works from the national art exhibition, she emphasized her praise of Standing Guard. Shen traveled a considerable distance to see the show and came to see his work at the exhibition with great excitement. But when he realized that the figures in his painting had been retouched, Shen was deeply discouraged. As a memory, this intervention disturbed the artist for many years. Shen still maintained some resentment toward Wang Mantian, the person who organized the painting rectification team that changed Standing Guard, supposedly because it did not meet political standards. As Shen saw it, the revisions destroyed all his hard work; he felt the painting’s authenticity had been destroyed by numerous revisions.
In fact, in order to follow the political requirements for revolutionary art and to avoid wearing a hat for having illicit relations with a foreign country, Shen purposely painted dark clouds over the Soviet Union. By bringing about the visual contrast, Shen still was able to exercise “red, bright, and shining”principles in his painting. Unfortunately, published pictures of Standing Guard were all revised images done by other painters. Shen felt great bitterness about the situation. Not until 1997 would Shen have the opportunity to completely restore the painting.
Adapted from Cao Qinghui’s “Politics and Aesthetics behind the “Balance”
—Reading a Kind of Creative Production in the Cultural Revolution from the Standing Guard for Our Great Motherland
Company: China Guardian Auctions Co.Ltd.
Auction: 2009 Spring Auctions
Date: 2009-05-29