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    Sale 2703

    Asian Contemporary Art and Chinese 20th Century Art (Evening Sale)

    24 May 2009, Hong Kong

  • Lot 523


    Price Realised  


    (b. 1919)
    Huang Shan Mountain Waterfall
    signed in Chinese; dated '74' in Chinese (lower left); signed, dated, titled and inscribed in Chinese (on the reverse)
    oil on board
    60 x 45 cm. (23 1/2 x 17 3/4 in.)
    Painted in 1974

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    Art critics Professor James Cahill and Professor Cao Xingyuan indicated: "The issue that must be faced by artists in China is how to continue their own traditions in what they learned in the West and how to integrate Western arts with Oriental arts." For Wu Guanzhong, traditional art is intrinsically possessed of multiple formats and elements of modern art, while modern art only reveals and accentuates the pattern of these artistic formats. In Yi tu chun qiu (Record of artistic life) he concludes his fifty years of creative life as "Seeking for the East and West": "The scriptures acquired from the West: formal aesthetic of visual images. Imitating Xuanzang to translate scriptures, [I] sow the seeds of the elements of formal aesthetic in the dimension of traditional vision, or explore and develop its latent elements of formal aesthetic. Taking turns to learn from the two families and thoroughly probing the two's properties, [I] discovered that the higher you reach, the more similar the art of the East and West appear to be. The difference between the pigments and tools of oil or ink painting is not the key to differentiating the two arts. Also, because of the nature of oil painting to generalize and be succinct and because of the insufficiency of its tools, it is hard to express various feelings; I use ink painting to create at the same time. Oil and ink painting, like the blades of a pair of scissors, are willing to create new age fashion." Wu truly believed that resolving the contradiction between western and eastern arts would lead the way to merging the two styles with their respective advantages so as to fully express the beauty of the world and lift the medium to a new height.

    In the 1950s, after his return from France, Wu began a series of landscapes in oil, painted as he roved throughout China. The breadth and richness of Chinese landscapes receives a special and lifelike presentation in these paintings. In the early seventies, Wu and his classmates and teachers at the Academy were collectively sent to work in the countryside in Hebei. It was not until 1972 that he was allowed to paint once a week. This restriction has caused the painter to suffer from suppression and depression. It is imaginable to feel the agitation when Wu was allowed to paint. Therefore, the works created in the mid-seventies are Chinese-spirit-oriented and are oil paintings endowed with even richer forms and textures, which are also the first summit of his creative life.

    Yellow Mountain has been an object of poetry and ink painting for literati and poets since the ancient time. Li Bai's "On Seeing Wen the Recluse Back to his Former Residence at Yellow Mountain's White Goose Peak" has the lines of "Once I was on its lofty summit, admiring Tianmu Pine below," which are exactly the spectacular scene of the overlapping of Tianmu Pine with the distant mountains in Wu Guanzhong's Huang Shan Mountain Waterfall (Lot 523). The painting has continued the Song dynasty's monumental landscape composition. His composition slightly resembles Kuo Hsi's Early Spring. Nevertheless, Wu did not follow the fixed format of close-up, middle or distant view, but adopted the horizontal and slightly tilted perspectives, allowing us to better sense the towering of the group of pines. As Wu says, "I've absorbed the way the ancient painters assembled small vignettes to build broad compositions, and by combining their strengths with oil techniques, I can produce more engaging images and colors, and grander spaces." As the scene comes from the artist's created compositions instead of a full-scale portrayal of scenery, viewers in the course of appreciation are unable to perceive the depth and sense of distance between the pines and distant mountains yet will be able to better sense the breadth of space and the towering and precipitous mountains profile. In writing, Wu similarly depicts the beauty of Yellow Mountain. In On Yellow Mountain, he says "In the boundless sea of clouds emerges the black peaks that are ravishingly beautifulKamong the high and low rifts protrudes the coiled pines crouching like iron wire that are inlaid in the undulating chain of mountains and swiftly pour like currents among the straight lines, composing a unique style of scores of lines". The artist purely utilizes Chinese vocabulary to portray clouds and mist of distant mountains. Whether it is the vague contour of mountain ranges and cascades or simple depiction of woods, they are the symbolic codes of landscape paintings which have been passed on from generation to generation. Though a Chinese poetic expression, the painting's overlapping greenery is also added with dots of moss that enhances the color of folk, which neutralizes the overall cool tone and the desolated aura of sublimity. This can be said to be the best reflection of Wu's closeness to ordinary people's living and his mundane thinking.

    Unlike the dense woods in Huang Shan Mountain Waterfall, Full of Green (Lot 524) created in 1977 is Wu's typical work describing water villages. The painting set the scene in Lu Xun's hometown-Shaoxing. Though a man of Yixing origin, he repeatedly makes pilgrimage to Shaoxing which provides him with inspirations and chance. As he says: "I determine to step forward from the small bridges of Jiangnan hometown to a formal world that is unknown to me. Since the sixties, I have kept on visiting Shaoxing. Shaoxing is very similar to Yixing but easier to paint and even closer to Lu Xun." On the choice of painting elements, Wu says "white walls and green roofs, little bridge and running water, lakes and ponds, water villages, water villages, and the whitish water villages. Black, white and grey are the main tone of Jiangnan and also the cornerstone of my works' silvery grey tone and the first step of my artistic path." The painter had been living in Jiangnan since childhood, so he knows the weather and geographic environment pretty well. The silver grey tone of Full of Green expresses the local's unique spring shade, while the non-piercing luminous wall corner is lightly shades that highlights the artist's best moment of painting. And for this reason, the painting has been specially selected as the illustration for his prose collection Hua wai yin, revealing how he has valued the work. In his writings, he emphasizes much on the importance of life drawing, but he asserts that an artist should follow their thoughts, to freely compose paintings. Although in near distance, houses near Jiangnan water villages appear to be merely highly dense black roofs and it is only in far distance that the white walls can be seen, for composition need, Wu accordingly places bright white, planes in the centre, which is opposite to the black and white composition of the actual scene, reflecting that he has a peculiar view in the aesthetic of formal structure. Also, he excels in modulating lines to capture the capriciousness and dynamism of treetops, giving the fresh greenery of woods, robust vitality. With the interlocking of groups of dots, lines and planes, he has lively described the unique demeanor, tranquility and refinement of Jiangnan of China.

    Wu strongly believes "Art could only be created from an innocent and selfless mind and could only germinate in one's own soil." With his faith of "developing a new branch from his own traditional roots," he strives to diffuse the European oil painting's direct and lively depiction as well as its rich and meticulous coloring with traditional Chinese artistic spirit and ideal aesthetics, so as to express the poetic vision of paintings through basic elements like dots, lines and planes. The diffusion has successfully combined calligraphic brushwork and ink with oil painting's unique coloring characteristics, giving the originally representational landscape a more profound level of pure abstract conception and aesthetic, and exhibited the ethnicity of substantial Chinese spirit as well as the sense of time.


    Private Collection, Asia

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note that the medium of Lot 523 is oil on board.


    Heibei Art Publishing, Wu Guanzhong, 1986 (illustrated, plate 17, unpaged).