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The painting, signed and dated September 1987, Yang Fei Yun hua Peng Peng, was included that year in the inaugural 'National Oil Painting Exhibition' in Shanghai where it won first prize. It was exhibited the following year at the Hefner Galleries in New York as part of a show titled Contemporary Oil Paintings from The People's Republic of China - among the first of its kind in North America. 

According to Yang, he hadn't want to sell The Northern Girl but it had been necessary to cover the cost of the exhibition. In the end he received RMB2400 (around $650). Roddick bought the picture c.1990 during one of many trips to New York made to develop the Body Shop brand.

The Northern Girl has remained in the Roddick family ever since and will be sold on behalf of the Roddick Charitable Foundation.

Chinese Mona Lisa

‘September 1987, Yang Fei Yun hua Peng Peng’, a portrait by Chinese artist Yang Fei Yun that sold for £1.7m at Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury. The sitter depicted was dubbed by the artist as the ‘Chinese Mona Lisa’ and she later became his wife.

Cross-cultural style

Yang Fei Yun is recognised as the pioneer of a new style combining the European classical tradition with Chinese symbolism. The Northern Girl is among a series of narrative portraits painted in the 1980s that depict his ‘Chinese Mona Lisa’ - Peng Peng, a model from Yang’s native Inner Mongolia who became his muse and then his wife.

It shows her in the early days of their marriage.

The market for Yang’s paintings is now based in China where works from this period have sold for over £1m. The auctioneers issued a ‘refer to department’ estimate but expected the painting to bring more than £150,000. At least four bidders were active above the £1m mark. 

The November 13 sale - the first the auction house had dedicated to Chinese paintings - also included six oils and a watercolour by Chen Yan Ning (b.1945) acquired by Roddick after a solo exhibition held at the Hefner Galleries in 1989. One of these, The Sandalwood Fan IV, bought in October 1990 for £10,500, sold at £230,000.