Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
There were oil paintings in the western artistic tradition, and then there were ink wash paintings in the east.
Due to economic factors, geography and modernization, the west surpassed China in its ability to influence culture. It could be said that the West has made its leap over to the East first.
Many hundreds of years had passed from the time the missionaries first arrived in China until the time the first Chinese students returned from studying abroad. During that period of time, there had been vigorous development of the oil painting art in the southern trading ports of the Qing Dynasty. Therefore, oil painters had first appeared in China during the Qing Dynasty.
Among them, in the earliest years, the most famous oil painting master was Spoilum.
There was little information on Spoilum on the internet. Hence, Li Du did not know much about him. However, Logan Stanley did have a decent amount of information on Spoilum.
“Spoilum could be considered the pioneer in the late Qing dynasty art movement. He was the one to bring oil painting to the people and allowed it to spread and become valuable. According to the research I did the day before, Spoilum’s paintings were sold for ten US dollars apiece back then.”
Li Du nodded. Ten US dollars in the late Qing dynasty period. According to the conversions, it would be equivalent to one hundred thousand US dollars today.
“Spoilum was a great artist. His portrait-sketching abilities were outstanding. Hence, his business was very prosperous, and even the mayor of Sailun City took his wife to visit the Chinese trading port and asked him to paint a portrait of her.”
It was understandable that in the art market, reputation meant business, and business promoted the development of art. As Spoilum became more popular, the number of people who admired him and came to meet him would increase.
“However, the thing that made him more influential was the fact that he had shaped a unique style of oil painting. He established his own style of portrait painting very early in his career. Look, the contrast between these portraits is not great, but pay attention to how the facial features had been done.”
“There’s something special about his paintings. He liked to paint the background using brownish-gray or bluish-gray. Look at this one here, have you guys noticed it? The background of the portrait has a lighter halo than the darker side of the face…”
As Logan Stanley was giving them a crash course on Spoilum, he was also inspecting the authenticity of their paintings.
Hearing that, Hans asked, “These paintings are genuine, right? They are all the works of this high profile Mister Spoilum, isn’t that so?”
Logan Stanley revealed a smile and said, “Let me get to that. It’s actually hard to identify whether a painting is genuine or a fake. It’s easy enough to determine the era of the painting. However, it’s hard to confirm if all of these were painted by Spoilum himself.”
“As I said just now, Spoilum was known for defining the style of oil painting in the Southern China business port region. From the latter part of the 18th century and for the next 50 years or so, the artists there followed his style of painting.”
“Some had been really good at imitating his style and hence, most of the paintings have either been autographed with Spoilum’s name or been classified as Spoilum’s painting style. Therefore, it would be difficult to say for sure whether these were really painted by Spoilum.”
Li Du replied, “There are autographs and dates on the back of these paintings. Look at this one, the autograph is on the front. Spoilum, April 1777. Portrait of the captain Ralph Morris on board of his ship at Pearl River Estuary.”
Logan Stanley shook his head. “This isn’t enough to prove authenticity. Of course, it will be useful to analyze the style and handwriting.”
“If we can’t be certain that this is Spoilum’s work, could the value of the paintings drop?” Hans asked, concerned.
Logan nodded. “That’s right. Spoilum’s paintings are very valuable. At that time, artists were in awe of him. For example, John Mires mentioned, ‘Spoilum is an outstanding Chinese painter. Perhaps one of his kind in that entire enormous country.’”
He continued to explain that it would be hard to verify the authenticity of Spoilum’s paintings if they were indeed genuine. It would require the opinions of a few experts who have studied the oil paintings of that era to reach a conclusion.
It was especially true because Spoilum’s style was very varied, and the second stage of his style began a few decades later.
“His early portraits were more conservative. He had been cautious when painted, the brush strokes were flat, the facial features were less pronounced, and the clothing and background were basically the shades of the same color. The portraits were subdued, there was no contrast between the colors, and the work was more stereotypical…”
“From about 1786, due to the improvement of his technique and skills, there started to be subtle color changes in the clothing painted. In addition, the overall color palette of the paintings became more harmonized. The facial features and contrast of the subjects were better expressed. There were changes in the depth of the background. Besides, the positioning and space of the subjects were better allocated, the temperament was well portrayed, and the style of the portraits shifted to present a neoclassical movement…”
“In his later years, his work was completely void of the marks left behind when easterners used line shapes to paint subjects. He managed to create art that was very similar to western painters, so much so that it would be hard to tell the work was done by a Chinese master…”
From a professional angle, Logan taught them many new things. It was challenging Li Du to absorb so much, as he did not know a lot about art and oil painting in particular.
Logan could not give them a definite conclusion, but based on his professional experience, the authenticity of those portraits was still very probable, and he guessed that they should indeed be works of Spoilum.
Spoilum’s portraits were popular in China. However, China had a profound antique culture and was not short of more valuable antiques. Hence, the value of the portraits would not be very high. Logan said that at auctions, Spoilum’s paintings were, at most, priced at one million dollars.
Li Du was pleased with that estimated value. Even if all the paintings together could only be sold for one million dollars, he would have made a profit.
He had truly stumbled upon a treasure this time around. Liu Shan Yang was very smart. However, he did not have much understanding of the internet and did not know enough to use it to research the painter’s identity.
Therefore, he might have gone online to check it out and did not find anything special.
One would require great foresight to determine the value of an art piece. Liu Shan Yang typically only hung around the market, cheating his customers of petty little sums. He would not have been able to imagine that a Chinese oil painting could fetch a few million yuan.
After all, most people would only be familiar with oil paintings painted by western artists.
Liu Shan Yang was aware that those paintings were old. However, he did not know that they have been around for more than two hundred years. He guessed that those paintings had been hidden and buried a few decades ago.
Li Du paid the fees for the verification process and Logan signed the expert verification slip. It was now up to them to think about how to deal with the paintings.
Logan had made it clear that those oil paintings were very niche. If they wanted to sell them off for a high price, they would have to look for collectors who were interested in Chinese oil paintings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Li Du asked Hans, “Do you know such people?”
Hans shook his head.
Li Du said, “Then go connect with the auctioneers and check if any of them are interested in those paintings. Otherwise, put it up as an ad on Facebook or other similar networks.”
Hans gave it a thought and then said, “Actually, there’s another way. I have an idea of how we can deal with this.”