Born in Macau, Mr. Xu Liping comes from Jieyang, Guangdong. In his early years, he worked in Japan and edited the Huobi Shumu Zhijianlu and the Index of Chinese Linguistics. He came to work in the Institute of Chinese Studies for about ten years in the 1970s, when he edited the journal of Studies in Chinese Linguistics. During the 1980s, he founded the societies of Wen Xue She and Han Mo Xuan, and continued to oversee the Han Mo periodical in the 1990s.
In his talk, Mr. Xu Liping first explained the society of Han Mo Xuan and its publications of Fu Baoshi's paintings. Among the various books and periodicals published by Han Mo Xuan, the Han Mo periodical is the most famous in the painting and calligraphy world, and so far this periodical has published more than ten collections of Fu Baoshi's paintings. Due to the importance of Fu Baoshi's works, both painters and collectors are fond of discussing and admiring his paintings. The market demand is large, and strong support from his family further enables the publication of Fu Baoshi's paintings. Han Mo Xuan has organised exhibitions of Fu Baoshi's paintings in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Guangzhou. At the 90th anniversary of Fu Baoshi's birth, Han Mo Xuan held the first exhibition of Fu Baoshi's paintings in Taipei in the National Museum of History, introducing these works to the Taiwanese audience. Ten years later, Han Mo Xuan assisted Fu Baoshi's son, Fu Ershi, in assembling Fu Baoshi's paintings from many Hong Kong collectors for a 100th anniversary exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing and the Art Museum in Jiangsu. This year, Mr. Xu Liping published a second volume of Jiuri Fengyun (Oxford University Press) in which he wrote several articles on Fu Baoshi as a celebration of the artist's 110th birthday.
To illustrate some of the common difficulties in studying or appreciating Fu Baoshi's paintings, Mr. Xu Liping used the example of the presented in an exhibition called 'Paris • Chinese Painting: Legacy of the 20th Century Chinese Masters' by the Hong Kong Museum of Art. One of these paintings was Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion. Strangely, the seals of this painting did not accord with Fu Baoshi's usual sealing style. There were four seals on the painting, with one seal on each corner. The seals on the two left corners were too vague to be seen. The lower right seal said 'often after drinking' 往往醉後 and the upper right seal said 'ancient clothing'上古衣冠. After a careful check of the original painting, Mr. Xu discovered that on the upper right corner, there was a hole through which a seal on another paper (fixed at the back of the painting) could be seen. It seemed that someone had rudely torn one corner of the painting to show the seal on the other paper, and Fu Baoshi himself was unlikely to do this. People might therefore question the authenticity of the painting. Mr. Xu Liping pointed out that judging from the painting's style and the calligraphy of the inscription, the painting was definitely Fu Baoshi's work, and it was one of his best paintings. However, the sealing style deserved further study.
Mr. Xu Liping also mentioned that because there are too many fake Fu Baoshi paintings on the market, collectors are not very confident about collecting Fu Baoshi's works. Some collectors have also tended to dismiss the genuine works without careful examination, resulting in further confusion. In addition, Fu Baoshi's painting habits have caused suspicion. For example, he tended to paint on the same theme repeatedly. The Orchid Pavilion was one of Fu's favourite themes, and he produced several paintings of this theme on both horizontal and hanging scrolls, and in both large and middle sizes.
According to Mr. Xu Liping, among the various Orchid Pavilion paintings by Fu Baoshi, one of the most outstanding pieces was a horizontal scroll collected by the National Art Museum of China. This painting was published as a cover by the Han Mo periodical (issue 9). The production date of the painting was inscribed on the lower left corner as spring festival, 1956. However, there was another earlier version of this painting displayed in Taipei. Mr. Xu Liping told a story about these twin copies of Orchid Pavilion.
More than ten years ago, Mr. Xu Liping ran into the Taiwan collector Lin Baili, who had recently purchased a copy of the Orchid Pavilion. Lin asked Mr. Xu why the Orchid Pavilion painting that he had bought was almost the same as the painting in the National Art Museum of China. The painting that Lin bought was previously owned by Cai Zhennan. Lin also wondered why the 19th issue of the Han Mo periodical (in which Mr. Xu Liping had published images of Cai Zhennan's collection of Fu Baoshi's paintings) had not included an image of the Orchid Pavilion, which was one of Cai's favourites.
Mr. Xu Liping consulted Fu Baoshi's son, Fu Ershi, concerning his father's repeated paintings on the same themes. According to Fu Ershi, his father loved to paint on a kind of Guizhou paper that was thick enough for his heavy drawing, extensive brushing and repeated colouring. This kind of paper could also be easily pulled apart into two or three layers. Fu Baoshi often peeled off the upper layer after he completed one painting and continued to work on the second layer. With additional colouring and strokes, the second layer could be turned into another painting. When he was a child, Fu Ershi saw his father painting in this way.
As for why the 19th issue of the Han Mo periodical did not include the Orchid Pavilion collected by Cai Zhennan, this omission happened because when Mr. Xu Liping was editing the 19th issue, he did not visit Cai Zhennan's house. Xue did not know that there was an Orchid Pavilion hanging on the wall of the big bathroom on the second floor of Cai Zhennan's house. When Xu went to see and photograph Cai Zhennan's collections, he worked in Cai's office in Taipei. Cai Zhennan and his secretary did not mention the existence of the Orchid Pavilion in Cai's house. This painting thus became a 'lost pearl' in the 19th issue of the Han Mo periodical.
Fu Ershi also gave a written description of Fu Baoshi's special painting habits. To illustrate Fu Ershi's written record, Mr. Xu Liping told another story.
Both the China Guardian Auctions and Sotheby's auctioned the same painting, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove by Fu Baoshi, in 2001 and 2004, respectively. These two auctions caused much controversy at the time. The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove was Fu Baoshi's favourite theme during the Anti-Japanese War, and he painted several pieces successively. In 2001, the China Guardian auctioned several works collected by Qian Changzhao, including two copies of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, one of them in a large size (64.5 x 76.8 cm) and the other in a fan shape. A senior collector suspected that the large-sized copy was a fake, but firmly believed the fan-shaped copy to be genuine. He spent a large amount of money to bid for the fan-shaped copy. The large-sized copy was not successfully auctioned, probably because of the negative comments. However, a famous Hong Kong movie director showed great discernment. He believed that the large-sized Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove was genuine and bought it at a high price. A few years later, he had the painting auctioned at Sotheby's (2004). During this exhibition, the famous collector still considered the large painting to be a fake, but many others held a different opinion. During the auction, Zhang Zongxian's younger sister Zhang Yongzhen was accompanied by Henry Howard-Sneyd (the Managing Director of Sotheby's Asia at the time) to bid for the painting. However, a young man sitting in front of Zhang Yongzhen continued to make higher offers, and he finally bought the painting for HKD$18 million. It was said that this young man was representing the Golden Eagle Broadcasting System in Hunan Province. With sharp taste and a bold heart, the Hong Kong director made more than HKD$10 million within three years.
According to Mr. Xu Liping, there was another original copy of the large-sized Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. On the frame of the original painting, Fu Ershi wrote down the following words to prove its authenticity: 'Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove was an ancient Chinese theme that my father loved during the 1940s, and he had successively painted several pieces, among which two or three copies were the same size. He first painted on a piece of thick paper, and then pulled it apart into two or three layers, but such occasions were seldom. This painting is the original version of Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, and it is undoubtedly my father's work (inscribed by Fu Ershi at the summer of 1947)'.
Mr. Xu Liping also listed other similar works by Fu Baoshi, such as Homeward Oxherds in Wind and Rain, Pi Pa Song, On Red Cliff and Waterfall. All of these paintings were first drawn on a piece of thick paper and then pulled apart into two layers. With additional strokes on the second layer, these paintings had twin copies. All of these examples were recorded by Mr. Xu Lingping and published in the second volume of Jiuri Fengyun.
In addition to the paintings produced out of the same paper, Fu Baoshi also painted several works with similar themes. Mr. Xu Liping told us another story in which one of Fu Baoshi's most famous paintings, Returning in Rains, was collected by the Nanjing Museum. Then, more than ten years ago, an auction centre put another copy of Returning in Rains in their catalogue. The new painting was almost the same as that in the Nanjing Museum. The auction centre's catalogue stated that the authenticity of the painting was attested by Fu Ershi, and a photo of Fu Ershi examining the painting was also posted. However, this painting was later removed from the auction. Mr. Xu Liping once asked Fu Ershi about this, and Fu said that someone from Shanghai had brought the painting for him to examine. However, as Fu was checking the painting carefully, the man from Shanghai told him that if he would write a few words to endorse the authenticity of the painting, he would be given RMB 50,000 as a gift. Fu Ershi refused to write such words and became suspicious of the painting. After the catalogue came out, Fu Ershi wrote to deny his approval of the painting, and the auction centre had to remove the painting from the auction. Later, however, the auction centre posted the painting again. Mr. Xu Liping went to check the painting carefully and found that it could not be a fake. He took some photos and went back to Hong Kong for further investigation. Fu Ershi had previously advised Mr. Xu of his suspicion. Another senior collector from the USA also held a reserved attitude, and kindly informed Mr. Xu of his concern.
Mr. Xu Liping looked for all the materials that he could find, and discovered that the new Returning in Rains had been published in the Weekly Journal Between Beijing and Shanghai and the Yearbook of Chinese Art (1948). This evidence for the painting's authenticity was solid. Mr. Xu Liping became much more confident and decided to bid for the painting. However, when Mr. Xu placed his bid by phone, someone in the auction hall repeatedly made higher offers. Mr. Xu gave up in the end, and later found that he was competing with Lin Baili, who had also gone to check the painting beforehand and considered it to be genuine. The two versions were very similar, and thus caused great confusion.
Similar cases can also be found among Fu Baoshi's paintings on Mao Zedong's poems. Although Fu Baoshi seemed very spontaneous and free, he also had a sharp brain for politics. Right after the establishment of the new China, in 1950, Fu Baoshi took the step of painting illustrations for Mao Zedong poems. His painting High Sky and Pale Clouds was the very first painting done on Mao's poetry. After that, Mao Zedong's poems became an important subject for Fu Baoshi's paintings. Fu painted more than one piece on Mao's poem Butterfly Loves • Reply to My Friend Li Shuyi. Sixty years later, two such paintings were found to be fortunately preserved. One of the paintings was saved in the Nanjing Museum and the other was acquired by Chenyi. In 1988, the latter painting was auctioned by Sotheby's in Hong Kong at HKD 600,000, which was a very high price at the time.