Lot Essay In 1947, the weekly news magazine Time characterised Chen Lifu (1900–2001), who was featured on the cover of its May 26 issue, as follows: “What he represents has existed in China for 2,000 years, and will exist for many more. If Americans are going to know China, they will have to know the grave, grey man, with the face of an aristocratic saint, who sometimes wears a rumpled Western business suit and sometimes a blue mandarin gown, who sometimes plots little intrigues and sometimes dreams great dreams.” The complexity in understanding one of the most influential figures in 20th century China confounded Time’s editors then as it confounds us today. What is unequivocally acknowledged is the roles he played in the Chinese history of the 20th century: his shaping of the modern college education in China, his wielding of tremendous power in the Republic of China government and the Nationalist Party, and his coveted position as the most-trusted advisor to Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975). Christie’s is honoured to present the paintings and calligraphies from the personal collection of Chen Lifu and his wife Sun Luqing (1899–1992), many of which have accompanied Chen Lifu across continents and bore witness to the life of this legendary figure.
Chen Lifu, whose sobriquet is Zuyan, was born to a close-knit family in Wuxing County of Zhejiang province with close ties to the overthrowing of the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1911) and the establishment of the Republic of China. His uncle Chen Qimei (1878–1916) was one of the most prominent revolutionary leaders of the Tongmenghui organisation and one of Sun Yat-sen’s (1866–1925) closest allies. A bright and outstanding student since his childhood, Chen Lifu pursued an education in engineering at the first modern public institute for higher education in China, Beiyang University, and eventually earned a master’s degree in mining engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 1925. In a speech given in 1994 at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, Chen Lifu recalled that when he was a youth in the 1920s, he dreamed of becoming a mining engineer and advancing the Chinese mining industry. However, due to the influence of his uncle Chen Qimei’s devotion to the evolution and his older brother Chen Guofu’s (1892–1951) advisory role to Chiang Kai-shek, he embarked on a political journey during that turbulent period and became a member of the inner circle of Chiang. Some of the many important offices he had held include Secretary General of the Council of Development, Secretary General of the Nationalist Party, Councilor of the National Economic Council, Minister of Education, Vice President of the Legislative Yuan, Councilor of the Executive Yuan, and Senior Advisor to the President.
An adherent to the Confucian philosophy and its core values, Chen Lifu spent the later years of his life promoting the Chinese culture and Chinese medicine. A prolific author and scholar, he published more than thirty books and edited and translated many more, in subjects ranging from Mencius philosophy, the Four Confucian Classics, land law, his own memoir, to the history of science and the history of agriculture in China, and education. Although fiercely private about his family life, in his memoir Chen Lifu nevertheless expressed his devotion and admiration for his wife of sixty-six years, Sun Luqing. A graduate of the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Sun Luqing studied traditional Chinese painting. The couple have collaborated on many works together, where Sun’s painting was inscribed by Chen, a lifelong and accomplished calligrapher.
Additional paintings, notably works by Zhang Daqian and Fu Baoshi, from the collection will be offered in Christie's Fine Chinese Modern and Contemporary Ink Paintings sale on December 1, 2020 (LOTS 1065-1073).