♦ CHEN YANNING (B. 1945)
oil on canvas, portraying in near photorealistic style two solemnly dressed young Chinese girls standing under a carved stone gate, an enormous bronze bell hanging down from its lintel, one of the two protagonists contemplating a flower in her hand with tender expression, the other with back turned towards the viewer, signed in Chinese and CHEN YAN NING in Pinyin (lower right)
160cm high, 105cm wide (excluding frame)
Estimate £ 80,000-120,000
Syllavethy Gallery, Aberdeenshire.
Susan and Michael Gassaway first met Chen Yanning on a trip to China in 1984, when he was Head of the Guangdong Institute of Fine Art. To reciprocate his hospitality, Susan and Michael invited Yanning to visit the UK to view some of the Old Masters of Western Art that he had only seen in books back in China.
Two years later, Yanning arrived in Aberdeen and together with Susan and Michael, he visited the museums in Scotland and London. Yanning made the museum attendants nervous as he wanted to get up close to study the thickness of paint on his favourite masterpieces. He, Susan and Michael communicated by using sign language and drawing sketches and quickly established a great friendship.
Yanning was invited to visit the US in the Eighties. When he decided to remain there, Susan and Michael offered to support him by finding portrait commissions for him in the UK. With hard work they amassed a fine collection of portrait commissions from a very wide variety of people, from those who scraped together the money because they so admired Yanning's talent, to dignitaries including the Lord Mayor of
London, Richard Branson, all the Body Shop family and the Royal Family including the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne.
Once, while organising a sitting for the Duke of Edinburgh in Buckingham Palace, a regimental flag was needed. With the help of some palace attendants a broom stick was found and they managed to prop it up somehow, hidden by the flag. They were checking the lighting with Susan sitting in the chair to be used by the Duke, when the whole contraption landed on her head! They fixed it safely before the Duke arrived and there was no repeat of the comedy moment!
When the Queen had sittings with Yanning, he had chosen The Garter Robes for her to wear. That was fine until the chain of office had to be adjusted on the Royal Bosom. Susan obliged. Later some ostrich feathers fell out of Her Majesty's hat and Susan had to fix them back in place!
Susan made all the arrangements for portrait sittings, from booking flights, to hotels and sittings, often several in different parts of the UK during one trip. She accompanied Yanning as the driver and Jill-of-all fixer. During the sessions, Susan would chat to the sitters placing herself in their direct line of their vision so that they moved as little as possible and Yanning could concentrate on his work. This is a very exceptional friendship going far beyond a mere business association.
Sold for £74,500 (buyer's premium included)