The Northern Girl, signed and dated September 1987, Yang Fei Yun hua Peng Peng, came for sale from the Roddick Charitable Foundation. Part of a cutting-edge show of art from the People’s Republic at the Hefner Galleries in New York, it was bought c.1990 by Body Shop founder Dame Anita Roddick (1942-2007).
Yang Fei Yun is today recognised as the pioneer of a 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’ – a model from Yang’s native Inner Mongolia who became his muse and then his wife.
Artist was paid $650
According to Yang, he hadn’t want to sell The Northern Girl (he received just RMB2400, around $650) but it had been necessary to cover costs of exhibiting in the US. Peng Peng made the journey to Wiltshire to see it again.
The auctioneers issued a ‘refer to department’ estimate but were privately hoping for a price close to £500,000. At least four bidders were active above the £1m mark. With buyer’s premium, the winning bidder in the room will pay just under £2m.
The November 13 sale also included six oils and a watercolour by Chinese-American painter Chen Yan Ning (b.1945), acquired by Roddick after a Hefner exhibition in 1989. The first lot of the day, The Sandalwood Fan IV, bought in October 1990 for £10,500, sold at £230,000 after a full 15 minutes of bidding.
The seven-figure barrier has now been passed 10 times at the Salisbury salerooms since the £2.6m sale of a Yuan double gourd vase in July 2005. A total of 14 lots have sold for £1m or more in the UK regions.
Read more on London and regional Asian art auction results in a future issue.