There is uproar on the Internet over the auction of the original model portrait of late Chairman Mao Zedong. Most netizens expressed the sentiment that a portrait of such historical significance should be kept in the National Museum of China rather than being auctioned.
The portrait done by painter Zhang Zhenshi (1914-92) is going to be auctioned by Beijing Huachen Auctions Co Ltd early next month and its current owner is a US art collector. It is unknown how this painting ended up in the hands of a foreigner.
To be frank, it is a business deal for the company entrusted by its client to auction a piece of artwork and there is nothing wrong with it.
On the other hand, it is quite natural for many Chinese to believe that the portrait is of historical value and should be kept by the State in its national museum.
The portraits of Mao hung on the rostrum of Tian'anmen from the early 1950s until the mid-1960s were made on the model of this portrait by Zhang.
Zhang was selected from among some 30 painters at that time to paint the image of Mao and other top leaders.
An expert of art history was quoted as saying that there were many versions of Mao's portraits, but this one done by Zhang was the most popular and it was even more precious as the sole original version of its kind found so far.
The fact that millions of printed copies of Mao's portrait based on this template were sold during the 1950s and '60s indicates its historical significance.
From this perspective, this portrait needs to be valued as a relic of historical interest. It is a reminder of a special period of time in history, and behind it are stories about both the painter and its significance.
From the perspective of its artistic value, it should undoubtedly be treasured as a rare piece of great value. Zhang has painted portraits of Mao with this one as the model, and since the whereabouts of those portraits are unknown, this original model is particularly valuable for art researchers.
As the current owner of this painting is an American, there is the possibility that it may end up in the hands of another foreigner at auction.
So this auction could be the only chance for the country to get hold of this piece of artwork of both historical interest and high artistic value, and keep it in its national museum or its national art museum.
The portrait of Zhu De, another late top leader and comrade-in-arms of Mao, to be auctioned at the same time, is also worthy of State purchase. It was painted by a US painter in 1939.
There have been some instances in the past couple of years of the State spending money buying cultural relics from auctions in Hong Kong and keeping them in the Palace Museum or other national museums.
(China Daily 05/22/2006 page4)