Song Dynasty, Silver, and Celebrity
Huang Yan’s “Princess Diana”
Lot 408: Huang Yan (Chinese, b. 1966), acrylic on canvas, "Princess Diana," 2008. Dimensions are: 30 1/2 inches wide X 38 1/2 inches tall, frame measures 32 3/4 inches wide X 40 1/2 inches tall.
Princess Diana rests on the mantel at Oakridge. The oil on canvas piece, painted by the Chinese artist Huang Yan in 2008, fittingly ties together the gallery’s upcoming auction—Around the World in 80+ Lots. Her title carries the weight of the House of Windsor and her face, painted as a porcelain canvas for a definitively Chinese pastoral, marks the history of British imperialism in the region. As political and economic changes across the globe shift not only the borders of seemingly unassailable alliances like the European Union, but also understandings of gender, nationality, and culture, the warm humanity in the eyes of Yan’s “Princess Diana” and confidence in her smile reassure those in her presence that beauty can be found in the unexpected and that new ideas can still compliment established tradition.
Although the presence of Huang Yan’s portrait in a raised, central position within the gallery may at first shock a visitor with its unexpected royal face painting, it’s certainly not the first time in history that British royalty commands the attention of global representatives. The New World Encyclopedia observes that British colonialism was bolstered by the idea that “her colonial subjects required guidance, that it was British rule that prevented anarchy and chaos” (1). While loyal 18th or 19th-century artists and their subjects also featured in the auction might laugh to see such uncertainty, one would find it difficult to argue that the craftspeople behind one of the Japanese wakizashi, Tongan clubs, West Malian carvings, or First Nation baskets found throughout Oakridge needed any guidance from colonial forces. Huang Yan, best known for his photographic Chinese Shan-shui tattoo series, which this painting resembles, has wrestled with these tensions between tradition and contemporary life, Eastern and Western culture, and the earthly and the celestial throughout his career, stating that the superimposed landscape is “my rejection of worldly wrangling,” and that “landscape is a release for my Buddhist ideas.” (2)
Across from Lady Di sits a commemorative sterling silver tea service crafted in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. The rigid standards of Poston Products, creators of the tea set, and the inherent Britishness of tea balance the freedom of the portrait on the mantel. Considering her reluctance for the mantle of British royalty and the reputation she posthumously enjoys as a leader for the people, Di, captured in her pearls and frills, reminds us that regardless of what class or kingdom, era or expatriation we find ourselves in, we’re all just a contemporary haircut and a pink blouse occupying an ever-blending world.
About the Author
Edward Hocevar is a Gallery Assistant at Oakridge Auction Gallery. He has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing and enjoys finding new connections between seemingly disparate works of art and antiques in the gallery. He joined the Oakridge team in 2019.