PROPERTY FROM A Private american COLLECTION (LOTs 1261-1262)
Post Lot Text
THE CENTENNIAL OF WU GUANZHONG’S BIRTH AND HIS LIFELONG SEARCH FOR A NEW ARTISTIC LANGUAGE
Considered the founder of modern Chinese painting, French-trained Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010) combined a sense of colour and composition from European oil paintings with a spirit, lightness of touch and tonal variation of Chinese ink-wash painting.
Born in Jiangsu province in 1919, Wu originally attended a technical school in Hangzhou. Upon meeting Chu Teh-chun who was then a student at the National Academy of Art, Wu had the opportunity to visit the academy and in 1936 he transferred to become a student there, hence embarking on a life-changing journey in art. Having begun his training at the academy in the mid-1930s under the tutelage of Pan Tianshou (1897-1971), Wu then went onto study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris during the late-1940s (fig. 2), where he became interested in the work of Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). The two experiences impacted Wu deeply and the young artist found himself at a crossroads between eastern and western traditions. Unwilling to give up either, Wu began to “sinicise oil painting and to modernise Chinese painting”.
Upon returning to China in 1950, Wu realized his contemporaries were unsympathetic to his cause. Unwilling to conform to the popularized Socialist Realist style of figure painting, Wu decided to paint landscapes. Travelling to several scenic places across China, Wu made sketches of the sights he saw. The artist wrote that “(t)hrough painting landscapes I have grown to love my motherland even more and wish to be forever intoxicated in her embrace.”
Although there was a brief stint during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), in which the artist was unable to teach, write or paint, by the early-1980s Wu began to appear in a flurry of exhibitions and publications. This continued throughout the rest of his life and most notably, London’s British Museum staged a groundbreaking exhibition for the artist in 1992 (fig. 3). This was the first time the museum broke its rule of displaying only ancient artifacts and showed the work of a living Chinese artist. A work from this exhibition, The Grand Canyon, dated 1989, is featured in the auction (Lot 1262).
Wu Guanzhong has always maintained a special relationship with Hong Kong. He first visited the city in 1950 on his way to return to China from Paris. In the next few decades he would come to Hong Kong again and again for numerous exhibitions and lectures, during which he would tirelessly visit streets of Hong Kong to do sketches. Hong Kong also provided Wu an open door to international museums and commercial galleries. In 1988 the Hong Kong Museum of Art collected its first work by the artist, entitled Tree Roots, and throughout the late 1980s to early 2000s Wu worked with a few galleries in Hong Kong holding many exhibitions to showcase his new works. Two works from this auction, Residents at Riverbank (Lot 1263) and An Old Man’s Envy of a Rushing Stream (Lot 1264) were both acquired by European collectors in the 1980s through Wu’s gallery exhibitions in Hong Kong.
From the Hong Kong through the Eyes of Wu Guanzhong exhibition organised by Land Development Corporation of Hong Kong in 1991 to the artist’s retrospective at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 2002 (fig. 1), Wu always welcomed any opportunities to exhibit in the city. In commemoration of this friendship and the artist’s centennial birthday, the Hong Kong Museum of Art will open a permanent “Wu Guanzhong Art Gallery” later this year following a generous donation of works made by Wu’s family. Wu’s work Tsim Sha Tsui (Lot 1261), dated 1990, again demonstrates Wu’s fondness of this city, and how its urbanity contrasts with Wu’s tranquil landscape of Jiangnan.
Today, Wu is internationally recognised and many of his works are held in museum and private collections across the world. When describing his artistic journey throughout the turbulence of twentieth-century China, Wu likened it to flying a kite against the wind with an unbroken string. For the artist, a kite’s resilience against the wind allowed it to soar higher and an unbroken string enabled it to remain attached to its original source of inspiration. Remaining true to this metaphor, Wu rendered his paintings with a touch of modernity through his pursuit of a national spirit. This is the historical significance of Wu Guanzhong.