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

Manners of the Hometown of Lu Xun

WU GUANZHONG (1919-2010)
Manners of the Hometown of Lu Xun
signed and dated in Chinese (lower left); signed and inscribed in Chinese (on the stretcher); gallery label of Hefner Galleries and label of Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Oil Paintings aixed to the reverse
oil on canvas
61 x 72.5 cm (24 x 28 ½ in.)
Painted in 1985
Hefner Galleries, New York, USA
Private collection, USA (acquired directly from the above and thence by descent to the previous owner)
Anon. sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 28 May 2011, lot 1010
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
The Hefner Galleries, Contemporary Oil Paintings From The People’s Republic of China, exh. cat., New York, USA, 1987 (illustrated, plate 54).
Shui Tianzhong & Wang Hua (ed.), The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong, Vol. III, Hunan Arts Publishing House, Changsha, China, 2007 (illustrated, p.212).
New York, USA, The Harkness House, Contemporary Oil Paintings From The People’s Republic of China, 1-23 April 1987.
Sale room notice
Please note that the exhibition information for lot 127 is amended and there is additional publication history for lot 127. Please visit Christie’s website for further information.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

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Lot Essay

An artist, in his pursuit of beauty, depicts what he sees; in the process of depiction, he discards what is nonessential, and discovers the laws that govern beauty itself. –Wu Guanzhong

'Beauty of form' was Wu Guanzhong's overriding creative principle. He believed that this was a kind of artistic expression in which simplifying and presenting the beauty of form in scenery constituted the essence of modern art. On that foundation, he studied how to refine the elements of modeling and shape, which then further led to semiabstract works. In terms of ideas and inspiration, he drew greatly from traditional Chinese aesthetics, and his works ultimately displayed both his deep understanding of Chinese tradition and his practiced grasp of Western techniques.

In 1974, Wu Guanzhong began ink-wash painting in addition to oil painting. In the '80s, as his skill in that medium continued to mature, a sense of ink-wash and its charm gradually entered into his works in oil. He sought out the best possibilities of both inks and oils and their various techniques, ultimately producing a common vocabulary for communication between East and West.

Manners of the Hometown of Lu Xun, dating from 1985, is based primarily on a black and white palette. Its tendency toward a simplified, generalized freehand style shows how the artist was constantly experimenting. Wu handles his oils in an ink-wash style: large, flat areas of colour are spread with a large brush, along with horizontal sweeps and agile and continuous textural strokes, all demonstrating the fluidity of his brushwork. On the one hand, Wu transplants elements of oils and inks into the same work, and he extends the visual idea of 'the five colors of ink,' that is, subtle shifts of tone, into the oil medium. On the other, he presents the landscape in extremely concise and pure colours, reduced to their lowest levels of saturation so that, beyond their expressiveness, he can clearly manifest the spirit of the landscape and its most crucial shapes. Wu Guanzhong noted that 'to paint in black and white is in itself an abstraction, because the natural world has color, and black and white is an abstraction from that.' Under Wu Guanzhong's inspired brush, the Western oil medium here exhibits an Eastern ink-wash ambience and a quiet, elegant poetry, a reflection of the flavor of life in the peaceful Jiangnan region. In paintings such as this, Wu Guanzhong's work in the oil medium seems to acquire an intensely regional character and to gain new expressive potentials as a result, all of which are a part of Wu's exploration into creating a 'nationalized' form of oil painting.

The idea of using a scene to express your own emotions becomes an important kind of standard in landscape painting. Whether in a still life or a scenic painting, if it does nothing but show objects and scenes, no matter how real the images or how beautiful the colours,
it may be somewhat visually entertaining, but ultimately, it will lack vitality and fail to reach the viewer's soul. It is the artistic conception that represents the direction of the artist's thought and emotions as he paints. –Wu Guanzhong, On Landscape Painting Wu Guanzhong was a native of Yixing, Jiangsu. In 1991, he was made an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture, and in 2002, he was elected Medaille des Arts et Lettres by the Academie des Beaux - Arts de l' Institut de France. The DNA of the Jiangnan region's graceful beauty became deeply rooted early on in this artist's heart.

Viewing Manners of the Hometown of Lu Xun, its basic black and white tonal palette seems closer to the special appeal of ink-wash paintings, and it makes his free, impressionistic approach to the composition all the more clear. A sense of Wu Guanzhong's nostalgia permeates this picture of the simple elegance and grace of life in the region. The white walls and black tiles, reflections along the water's edge, and the distant sound of voices speaking in the pleasing Wu dialect would be enough to bring a wave of homesickness to anyone's heart. This work is yet another example of Wu Guanzhong's successful exploration into making oil painting more native. Along his path toward 'nationalizing' oil painting, he always adhered to his own purposeful mission: 'To be in the motherland, in my homeland, in my hometown, and to speak freely from the bottom of my heart.'

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