(Chinese, 1919-2010)
New House in the Lao Mountains
signed in Chinese; dated '75' (lower right)
oil on board
57 x 45 cm. (22 7/16 x 17 11/16 in.)
Painted in 1975
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 April 2006, Lot 602
Private Collection, Asia
Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong Vol. 2, Changsha, China, 2007 (details illustrated, p. 300; illustrated, p. 301).
Hong Kong, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Wu Guanzhong: A Retrospective, 10 September-4 October 1987 (Exhibit No. 25).

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Lot Essay

Born in 1919 in Yixing County in Jiangsu Province, Wu Guanzhong graduated from the Hangzhou National Art College, an institution founded by Lin Fengmian. In 1946, with the support of a scholarship, he moved to Paris to study but by 1950, Wu had decided it was time to return to China to develop Chinese oil painting. For political reasons, Wu focused on politically-neutral landscape paintings and drew on the beauty of the forms of the objects. While adopting Western ideas of Formalism, Wu was fully aware of the realities of the Chinese cultural scene and his audience's tastes, and was able to win support from both art critics and the mass audience. Wu's art is just as he describes it: "I love expressing a 'frame of mind' in artwork, yet I believe that such 'frame of mind' must be combined with the forms of an object - it can only be truly reflected through the depiction of forms. The core of my artworks lies in the discovery of the 'frame of mind' through sketching and drawing."
In his search for inspiration for his landscape paintings, Wu often travelled to scenic mountains and rivers to sketch. During the summer of 1975, Wu went on a hiking trip to the Lao Mountains with a few friends from Qingdao and lost his way in the woods. Luckily, he was rescued but the incident was sufficiently vivid for him to keep a piece of rock from the Lao Mountains engraved 'Lost in Lao Mountains' on his desk. Wu says in one of his articles: "The greatest impression the Lao Mountains has given me is neither the mountains nor the sea - it is the rocks. Rocks are everywhere, angular and irregular in shape, carrying a tint of black, white, grey or purple. They are horizontally, vertically or diagonally positioned, resembling the multi-dimensions of life. Picasso would have liked it. Grass and pine trees sprout between rocks, and though the pine branches are rather thin, they stand strong with dignity. Where you see thorny bushes you know you can find roses; and where you find such pine branches, you know you'll be in the Lao Mountains."
New House in the Lao Mountains (Lot 23) was created in 1975 and features the rocks of Lao Mountains. The rocks are depicted in different forms and shapes in the foreground, middle ground and background of the painting and the layers of rock form a lumped, crumbled structure. Wu places emphasis on achieving direct visual effects and extracting beauty from the forms of the objects themselves. His approach is similar to Kazimir Severinovich Malevich's portrayal of abstract geometric shapes. The rocks in the foreground have been simplified from irregular, rugged objects into overlapping geometrical shapes of various colours and sizes. Every shape differs in its form, resembling the distorted, strange rocks in the background. The overlapping of shapes demonstrates a layered spacing and a sense of depth, or as Wu puts it, "Geometrical shapes can be arranged into a rich sense of form." Though the painting has large-sized segments, a charming rhythm is created by the silhouettes of the shapes, forming cohesive, implied lines. Wu adopts the Chinese freehand flower-and-bird-style when sketching boulders, rocks, as well as the pine branches sprouting out from between rocks. He even uses the 'graffito' technique to carve out details and a palette knife to produce complicated textures of moving lines throughout the painting. In order to encapsulate the beauty of form, Wu creates supplements to the landscape by substituting real objects with imaginary ones, attempting to tailor and put together objects viewed from various perspectives. Xu Hong says in his article on The New House in Lao Mountains: "The large, joint pieces of granite in the bottom left corner K transforms the original tri-sectional composition of the painting, shifting the central point and brings visual excitement K Due to its presence, the painting is less loose and bland, it helps with the overall coordination of forms and enriches the painting."
New House in the Lao Mountains combines both realism and expressionism, similar to Lyonel Feininger's abstract expressionism. It not only presents the oriental pine branches and strange rocks of the Lao Mountains but also explores the hidden beauty of form in the scenery. His work successfully brings landscape paintings to a whole new level - and the height of abstract expressionism - contributing to the development of landscape paintings. Wu was able to create an excellent blend of Eastern and Western art. His geometrical shapes are inspired by the West, while the lines, dots and black-and-white strokes come from traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphy. These ideas and concepts complement each other perfectly in this work.

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