PENG XIANCHENGCoquetry, 1995, ink, color and gold leaf on paper, 138.5 × 69 cm. Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery. 

Two Generations

Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery
Hong Kong China

Hosted by Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, the selling exhibition “Two Generations” presents works by father-daughter ink painters, Peng Xiancheng (b. 1941) and Peng Wei (b. 1974). Featuring over 40 paintings by the two artists, it marks the first time that pieces by the Sichuan-born duo have been exhibited together.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors are greeted with Peng Xiancheng’s Coquetry (1995), an over one-meter-tall painting depicting two women dressed in elegant robes frolicking amid blossoming magnolia trees against a bright blue sky. Bursts of vibrant color, punctuated by gold-leaf ornamentation, dazzle the eye. By contrast, Peng Wei’s nearly two-meter-long hanging scroll, Dearest, Faithfully Yours No. 1 (2015), which hangs nearby, is a landscape rendered in delicate brushwork with subtle ink and color washes. Not visible at first, the protagonists are two young male figures gazing at each other while playfully embracing adjacent trees. Though Peng Wei learned painting from her father, working as his apprentice from the age of four, in the last decade and a half she has honed a distinctive artistic style and vision of her own, which is on full display at the Sotheby’s exhibition. 

The show continues in two segments, with the left side of the gallery presenting a cross-section of Peng Xiancheng’s oeuvre from the last two decades. A self-taught artist, he is celebrated for his unique style and mastery of the “boneless” technique (painting without outlines) and “broken-ink” (layered ink) washes—traditional methods that dates back from as early as the eighth century. He is also lauded for his vivid use of color, derived from his extensive experience with oil paint.

In this section are examples of Peng Xiancheng’s iconic portraits of horses and slightly rotund Tang dynasty women, donning the characteristic hairdos of that era, along with still-lifes of birds, flowers and insects, and a selection of landscapes. These works include The Hunt No. 5 (1999–2015), a representative painting depicting galloping horses and riders in a lively hunting scene created using the elder artist’s unique freehand and spontaneous brushwork. Large, gnarled trees, executed with powerful brushstrokes in dark ink, frame this unusual composition, conveying dynamism and movement. Another work that stands out is Horses and Bather (1997–2015), which hangs on the adjacent wall. In this impressionistic scene, three horses saunter through a verdant forest, led by a nude female figure. The saturated washes and interplay of dry and wet brushwork create a strong sense of depth and texture. Peng’s range of styles demonstrates his versatility and desire to experiment while remaining rooted in, and inspired by, ink-painting tradition.  

Occupying the right side of the gallery are the works of Peng Wei. The main feature of this section is a set of ten paintings, in the format of albums and hanging scrolls, from of her recent series “Letters from a Distance” (2014–15). Each painting is laid out on a tray that hangs from the ceiling, imbuing the space with an ethereal quality, reflective of the exquisite works themselves. These paintings reveal an even more lyrical and expressive style compared to that of her earlier series, “Embroidered Shoes” (2003–06) and “Brocade Robes” (2003–12). In the new series, painted in her signature delicate brushwork, Peng reinterprets the traditional landscape by complementing each work with calligraphic inscriptions, translated from letters and poems written by European authors and artists, encouraging the viewer to engage in a dialogue that transcends culture and time. In the exhibition catalogue, she states: “Paintings and inscriptions are part of an interesting conversational game between scholars and subsequent generations.” In a novel twist, Peng Wei surrounds her landscapes with her own painted brocades, adorned in a variety of auspicious and whimsical patterns, demonstrating her creative spirit and sensitivity to detail. Through these innovations, she offers a new interpretation of the Chinese landscape painting.

PENG WEIDearest Father, Faithfully Yours No. 1, 2015, ink and color on paper, 194 × 48 cm. Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery.

PENG WEIFather and Daughter No. 2, 2015, ink and color on paper, 19 × 180 cm. Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery.

Created specifically for the exhibition and as a tribute to the close relationship with her father, in the series “Father and Daughter” and “Dearest, Faithfully Yours” (both 2015) Peng Wei pairs painted works with excerpts from letters by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his father and wife. The letters inscribed on the works reveal the deep and intimate connections between father and child, husband and wife. In “Father and Daughter,” Peng Wei portrays scenes of an older gentleman with a young apprentice—such as painting or traveling together—alluding to her own poignant childhood memories with her father.

Hanging towards the back of the gallery is the “Dear Father” series, Peng Wei’s depictions of scholars’ rocks, which were objects of meditation collected by the Chinese literati during the early Song dynasty. For her, the process of painting a rock is not only a test of technique and skill, but also a means to transmit one’s character. She likens the tall rocks depicted in this series to the character of the Song dynasty literati and her father—resilient, independent and authentic. Nearby hang her earlier installation works, consisting of moulded female busts made of paper with various vignettes painted on them, including the Southeast Asian-influenced scene in Sultan of Brunei Wedding (2010). 

The Sotheby’s exhibition successfully celebrates the distinct artistic accomplishments of both Peng Xiancheng and Peng Wei. While the viewer can appreciate the loving relationship between father and daughter, the exhibition is even more so an opportunity to observe the power and versatility of the Chinese ink-painting tradition through the works of two artists from different generations. In a culture where the preference for sons stretches back for centuries, it is all the more remarkable to see Peng Wei so passionately continuing her father’s artistic legacy.

“Two Generations” is on view at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery until October 29, 2015.

PENG WEIDear Father No. 1, 2015, ink on paper, 180 × 70 cm. Courtesy Sotheby’s Gallery, Hong Kong.