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

Haiying (Figure)

WU GUANZHONG (1919-2010)
Haiying (Figure)
signed in Chinese and dated ‘1990’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
61 x 92.7 cm. (24 x 36 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1990
Private collection, Asia
Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 27 November 2005, lot 215
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Chua Soo Bin (ed.), Nudes in the Twilight – Wu Guanzhong, L’Atelier
Productions Pte Ltd., Singapore, 1992 (illustrated, pp.74-75).
Shui Tianzhong & Wang Hua (ed.), The Complete Works of Wu
Guanzhong Vol. III, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha,
China, 2007 (illustrated, pp. 294-295).
Singapore, Singapore National Museum, Nudes in the Twilight –
Wu Guanzhong, January 1992.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

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Lot Essay

As of 1990, I am now seventy-one years old. For a month, taking advantage of summer days, I decided to brush up on painting nudes from life once again, to see just what kind of nudes I could produce. I decided on five models. My graduate student Zhong Shuyan accompanied me in painting. We start working promptly every morning at 8 o'clock, and have never once started late. –Wu Guanzhong, preface to Nudes in the Glow of Sunset

In 1990, Wu Guanzhong once again took up human figure painting. After 40 years away from this particular genre, it became a means of recalling earlier phases of his career, but his ability, now, to incorporate the unique personal appeal of his own theories of painting resulted in especially unusual and interesting works. He completed only ten such figure paintings during 1990, all of which were collected and published in the album Nudes in the Glow of Sunset. This Reclining Nude is one of those ten.

Painting nudes from life was a compulsory course when Wu Guanzhong first studied art. For this great landscape painter to relive this experience, in the sweltering heat of summertime Beijing, at more than 70 years of age, must have been an interesting experience. Why did he choose this path so long ago, and make painting part of his life for so many years? He seems to have wanted to prove that he had not forgotten those early aspirations and his passionate devotion to his career. And this revisiting the past seems to have brought his painting back to its original point; in his colour, brushwork, composition, contrasts, balance, and expressiveness, it seems to have been a means by which to reexamine his 'new self.' Such bravery and courage is a valuable thing, and highlights the preciousness of these works — the artist turning to face himself and his art with such utter sincerity.

Wu noted in his preface that when he painted this group of works, 'it was difficult to be both incisive and vivid while also expressing my thoughts and reactions…. Initially, feeling quite tense, I struggled just to keep control of my feelings and the images I produced. But once I relaxed, my subject captured and engaged me, and I automatically began to portray the model as she posed.' As early as 1980, Wu Guanzhong stated, 'Look at the British sculptor Henry Moore. The human body that he carves is not completely the outer appearance enclosed by the skin of human beings. He expresses their movement and stillness, their outward reach and their inward motion, singing the praise of the power of the master of the universe.' Given the balance between realistic depiction and more lyrical expression of feeling, and between precise forms and the pursuit of a formal beauty, it is clear that Wu Guanzhong here was already working with his usual skill and ease.

The artist begins by painting from life and outlining the model's form in basic lines. As he continues to shape her form, he focuses less on feminine allure than on a sense of volume and weight, and the twists and turns of her limber body. Blocks of colour express light and shadow and a sense of the model's musculature. This visual approach, while somewhat similar to the effects of viewing Li Gongling's Five Horses, differs from it where Li Gonglin employs spreading washes of ink to produce fullness and dimensionality in his subject. Wu Guanzhong, building up large sections of colour, shows less concern for accuracy and realism, but instead tends to echo Cezanne's concepts in the way he produces weight and volume in his subject. His blocks of rich colour, heavily overlapping, and the seemingly casual way his abstract structure is achieved, all result from an exceptional skill with the brush that freed the artist completely.

Wu produces the natural scenery in the distance in broad, effective motions: the reflections of the sea, a streak of pink clouds in the sky, the outstretched wings of the seagulls, or the vaguely discernible horizon — and all serve to set off the sheer loveliness of the young girl's nude figure in the foreground. The natural scenery, the colours of sea and sky, complete the sense of leisurely and utterly satisfying beauty in this work. Here in 1990, Wu Guanzhong leads us completely beyond the confines of his studio, to let us open our hearts and minds and welcome the fine days of the future.

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