WU GUANZHONG (1919-2010)
WU GUANZHONG (1919-2010)

A Riverbank

WU GUANZHONG (1919-2010)
A Riverbank
signed in Chinese and dated ‘80’ (lower right)
gouache on paper
39 x 54 cm. (15 3/8 x 21 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1980
Anon. Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 30 October 2000, lot 39
Anon. Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 27 October 2002, lot 309
Anon. Sale, Poly Beijing, 3 December 2011, lot 370
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Sin Hua Gallery, Wu Guanzhong: Watercolour & Gouache Paintings, Singapore, 1990 (illustrated, plate 46).
Notices The Gallery, Wu Guanzhong: A Journey of Individualism, Singapore, 1994 (illustrated, plate 48, unpaged).
Hunan Fine Art Publishing House, The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong Vol. III, Changsha, China, 2007 (illustrated, p. 181).
Triumph Art Space, In Memory of Wu Guanzhong: A Retrospective Exhibition of Wu Guanzhong’s Most Significant Artworks, Beijing, China, 2010 (illustrated, p.32).
Beijing, China, Poly Art Museum, The Kite String Will Not Be Broken-Wu Guanzhong’s Classical Artworks Exhibition, August 2010.

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Shanshan Wei
Shanshan Wei

Lot Essay

Wu Guanzhong was introduced to art by Chu Teh-Chun in 1936, when Wu was just seventeen years old. He soon after enrolled at the National Hangzhou Academy of Art, where he studied Western painting under Lin Fengmian and Wu Dayu. He quickly fell in love with Impressionist and Modern art and worshipped Cézanne and Van Gogh. Simultaneously, Wu studied Chinese painting under the tutelage of Pan Tianshou, finding inspiration in the works of Shi Tao, Bada Shenren, and Xu Gu.

Referring to his student years, Wu Guanzhong once said : “In the early days, I specialized in oil painting while also studying traditional Chinese painting. Watercolour played a key role in connecting these two traditions—East and West. It was a bridge within my artistic career. The colour of oil paint and the fluidity of ink unite within watercolour, existing in harmony and affectionately intermingling…oil paint, watercolour, and ink, three families coming together. A Chinese sentimentality expressed in oil and Western mannerisms conveyed in ink—almost a vermillion red, almost an inky black—their influence on one another is often unconscious.”
Wu Guanzhong’s work falls primarily into three categories: watercolour (including gouache), oil painting, and ink painting. These three parts interact and embody the evolution and multiple stages of the artist’s creative process. In the 1950s, Wu’s achievements were primarily in watercolour, though he also used oil paint at the time. Later watercolour became an intermediary when he began to focus on creating works in oil. In the 1970s, oil painting led to a transition to ink painting, and at a later stage, he mainly used colorful ink to create his work. Watercolour occupies an important position within the creative process for Wu. The water and pigment of the medium allowed him to become fluent in both the Chinese and Western painting traditions— as such, watercolour works are indispensable to a discussion of Wu’s work.

I sit at the boat’s stern,
At the stern, in solitude.
Wave after wave rolls along,
As others retreat to the distance.
A distance, vast and obscure, without hope.
Suddenly recall, I am being carried forward!
Sunset chasing the stern,
Casts a glowing stroke across the sea,
Marking the path I have traveled.

Wu Guanzhong

A Seaside Scene , brimming with vitality and promise, indicates an artistic rebirth for Wu Guanzhong. The year 1976 marked the end of China’s Cultural Revolution, allowing Wu to finally immerse himself in his art. His hopes for the future are palpable in this work, A Seaside Scene. The wild swaying grasses, seagulls symbolizing freedom, and boats which have just set off on their voyage, express his buoyant optimism toward life and artistic creation.

A Seaside Scene is divided into three plains—the lower two-thirds of the composition are occupied by a swirling white expanse of windswept grass, commanding the viewer’s gaze to follow the cool bite of the ocean breeze as it travels from the sea through the swaying brush. Winding through the field is a serpentine path, leading the viewer’s gaze to the coastline and then on to where two boats have set sail. The cresting waves and gulls overhead are delineated with sparing strokes. To the right, a rocky cliff and row of wind-stooped trees are rendered frankly in swaths of colour. As Wu Guanzhong said “Addition is simple. Artistic creation is so often rooted in the process of subtraction after addition—a so-called generalization and refinement.” A Seaside Scene reflects Wu Guangzhong’s mastery of Chinese landscape and imagery, striking a conceptual balance between realism and abstraction.

In the 1970s Wu Guanzhong was at his prime, with boundless enthusiasm to create—but for political reasons, he was restricted from painting. According to The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong , Wu Guanzhong painted about 200 works in oil in the 1970s, but only around 30 gouaches and watercolours during that time. In May of 1990, Sin Hua Gallery celebrated its 10th anniversary. The artist, accompanied by his wife, traveled to Singapore to attend the opening ceremony of the exhibition entitled “Wu Guanzhong: Works in Watercolour and Gouache.” During this occasion, A Seaside Scene was hung behind the podium, indicating the place of great importance this work held for the artist.

A Riverbank (Lot 5) is another significant work created by Wu Guanzhong in 1980. This painting— conceived at the nexus of abstract beauty and formal prowess— decisively conveys the aesthetic concepts Wu wrote about in his essay On Abstract Aesthetics, published in the same year.

The artistic concept A Riverbank conveys is both situational and formal—furthermore, the painting’s captivating poetic grace moves even the average viewer. The composition is not precisely delineated, but rather expressed through Wu Guanzhong’s most representative “form” of expression—dots, lines, and swaths of paint and skillful use of colour. Wu renders a clear and tranquil river in the foreground, flanked by a bank dotted with white-walled homes capped with black tile roofs tucked amidst the foliage. Beyond, the trees bordering the mountains burst in autumnal reverie. The orange, gold, and deep green tones within the composition may seem hastily placed, but their patchwork arrangement has a charming effect—scattered about the gray tones, they appear all the more dazzling. Swift lines form the branches of the trees, enlivening the composition with a spirited tempo—this too is representative of Wu Guanzhong’s style.

While depicting a natural landscape, A Riverbank articulates the modern sensibilities and poetic sentiments of traditional Chinese landscape painting. Simultaneously, this work cleverly showcases the exquisite richness in texture and dimensionality of gouache as a medium, instilling the depicted landscape with dynamism and elegance. The form of the landscape emerges from this collection of structural and representational elements—dots, lines, swaths— imbuing the composition with a sense of abstract beauty and philosophical energy. As such, A Riverbank is not merely a rigid realistic recreation, nor is it confined by the limits of absolute formalism. Rather, the work occupies a space between worlds, seeking to intensify both form in concept and material formality, successfully unifying these elements of Wu Guanzhong’s original style of artistic expression.

From A Seaside Scene and A Riverbank , Wu Guanzhong’s landscapes have not deviated in their aesthetic sensibility. In his works, emotional appeal and visual form compliment and stimulate one another to achieve widespread approval from experts and passersby alike. Wu Guanzhong’s landscapes transcend time and space, beckoning viewers to succumb to a sublime visual experience.

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