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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Bloomsbury to Auction Artefacts from ‘New China’ and the Chinese Cultural Revolution

On 5th November 2009 Bloomsbury Auctions in London is staging the first ever sale devoted entirely to artefacts from ‘New China’ and the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1950-1976).

Major exhibition pieces will be offered in addition to the renowned Little Red Books and other Mao memorabilia. Works by Senior Masters, who were given no time restraints, are considered today to be amongst the finest 20th century Chinese works of art and they are of a standard not seen for 200 years. The majority of items belong to the renowned connoisseurs Peter and Susan Wain, whose extraordinary collection was exhibited at the National Museums of Scotland from 2003-2004. Bloomsbury Auctions’ sale is timed to coincide not only with London’s Asian Art Week but also the 60th anniversary of the founding of The People’s Republic of China.

Chairman MaoThe total disappearance of Maoist slogans, architectural monuments, films, plays, sculptures and mass parades from everyday life in Mao Zedong’s China, make these artefacts amongst the few visual reminders of that unique historical period which represented the heaviest deluge of propaganda through the arts, that has ever been experienced in any civilisation at any time. When artistic freedom rather than political freedom began to return in 1976 after Mao’s death and the arrest of Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing and the Gang of Four, Little Red Books were shredded and objects regarded as being from a period best forgotten, were destroyed or hidden, thus surviving original items such as these for sale, are rare and highly collectable.

The Chinese Cultural Revolution (from 1966) saw the image of Chairman Mao used as a national rallying point which was synonymous with cultural change and the purging of all bourgeois elements. Propaganda was taken over by Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife who controlled all the arts and demanded standardised performance and imagery – art had to tow Mao’s political line not the personal creative vision of the artist. As the masses were largely illiterate, striking visual images were vital and Mao himself became a cult figure, his smiling avuncular face was ubiquitous. Under Jiang Qing artists had to take the greatest care in reproducing Mao’s likeness as the slightest flaw labelled the creator as counter revolutionary, with dire consequences. Porcelain images had a particularly high risk of breakage or damage, cobalt blue could burn through the glaze and misfiring could damage Mao’s image. He was frequently depicted as the sun, all powerful and everlasting with the people shown as sunflowers turning their heads towards him. One of the rarest pieces in the sale is a large porcelain vase dated 1968 decorated with Mao’s portrait in under-glaze blue with sun rays emanating from him and three sunflowers representing the ‘three loyalties’: loyalty to Mao himself, his thoughts and the proletarian revolution. The back of the vase bears a poem written by Mao commemorating a guerrilla war in the autumn of 1929 (estimate £10,000-15,000.)

The idealised porcelain bust of a young peasant girl as a humble rural worker, embodies the New China aesthetics of youth, health and materiality before the Cultural Revolution. Made in 1960 by the Senior Master Zeng Shandong, the finely painted headscarf is achieved by using lace dipped into the glaze and modelled onto the figure (estimate £4,000-6,000).

A true artistic tour de force is the large (122cmsx72cms) lacquer and mother-of-pearl plaque commemorating the Opening of the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, made at the No.1 State Lacquer Factory in 1970. Important items such as this were usually made in threes: one as a gift to a deserving and sympathetic head of state, one was sent on travelling exhibitions to promote the view of China as a revolutionary Utopia and the third was kept by the factory museum as a spare. The plaque offered by Bloomsbury exemplifies the Chinese view of a futuristic ‘bright, new dawn of technology’ and was bought by the vendor Peter Wain, from the factory itself and is estimated to fetch £2,000-3,000.

The Quotations of Chairman Mao are perhaps best known as the Little Red Book, which was compiled and printed by the Political Department, Air Force Division of Shenyang Military Region, December 1963, prior to the formal official publication in the following year. This larger anthology is barely known and not mentioned in the standard Mao bibliographies; it has been suggested that this may be a trial specimen, created by the Air Force and used as a model and source for Mao’s better known edition of 1964 (estimate £20,000-30,000). Illustrating the span of the Little Red Book, the sale includes three Hebrew editions (estimate £1,200-1,800) and one in Braille, edited by the People’s Liberation Army Central Political Department (estimate £300-500).

In 2006 Bloomsbury Auctions held a highly successful sale of privately owned Chinese Vintage Posters and as a result it is now staging The Art of Chinese Propaganda. The present sale consists of some 300 pieces and is the largest group of artefacts from the Chinese Revolution ever to appear on the market anywhere in the world.

Bloomsbury House, 24 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 1PP Tel: +44(0) 20 7495 9494 – Fax: +44(0) 20 7495 9499

Image: From the Collection of Peter & Susan Wain Large Vase depicting Chairman Mao porcelain, est £10,000-15,000