On October 6, Sotheby’s will hold its fall Hong Kong contemporary art evening sale. Among the leading lots is Chinese-born contemporary artist Liu Ye’s Florence (1994). The work is expected to achieve a price between HKD $7 million to $9 million ($905,000-1.2 million). The evening auction carries the highest estimate of any sale staged in Asia at the auction house at HKD $455 million ($58.8 million).
Florence is an example from Liu Ye’s German period, the early years of the artist’s career during his studies in Europe before his eventual return to China. The work was completed during a pivotal moment in the artist’s career when he first began developing some of his most recognizable emblems. It is the first appearance of the striped Breton shirt, worn by the laughing child central in the painting. In his later works, his reccuring sailor characters appear with the shirt as a uniform. The painter’s other common motifs appear in the present work: angel wings, books, mirror, and the geometric format that nod to abstract painting.
It is the only recorded example in the artist’s oeuvre that features a landscape based on a real location. Here, the work features a view of Fort Belvedere in Florence, Italy. Another comparable work, The Broken Mirror (1992), made during this period in the artist’s career also features an open-mouthed figure in a mirrored reflection.
Known for a practice that straddles geometric abstraction and hyper-real figuration, Liu Ye draws influence from centuries of art history, including Old Masters like van Eyck, Vermeer, and modernists such as Morandi, Balthus, de Chirico, Mondrian, Klee, and Magritte.
Previously, the work has resided in private collections in Berlin and China. It last sold at Christie’s in 2006 for HKD $960,000 ($124,000). It follows Sotheby’s July sale of Liu Ye’s large-scale painting featuring a lone female figure in a winter scene that sold for $5.8 million.