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

By the Side of the Li River (I)

WU GUANZHONG (1919 - 2010)
By the Side of the Li River (I)
signed and dated in Chinese (lower right); signed, titled and dated in Chinese (on the reverse)
oil on board
59.5 x 41.5 cm (23 3⁄8 x 16 3⁄8 in.)
Painted in 1977
Sin Hua Gallery, Singapore
Private Collection, Asia
Christie's Hong Kong, 26 May 2018, lot 15
Acquired from the above by the present owner
People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, Wu Guan Zhong – Connisseur’s Choice I, China, 2003 (illustrated, plate 37, p. 99)
Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong Vol. III, Changsha, 2007 (illustrated, p. 105).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

“I cherish these portraits of farmers and their crops, which I painted standing in the fields under the scorching sun. That year, as I painted this, I understood the flame that must have burned in Van Gogh’s heart.” Wu Guanzhhong

In the 1970s, Wu Guanzhong’s work in the oil medium reached maturity, his mastery of the landscape genre in particular approaching perfection. During that most turbulent period of recent Chinese history, with culture in serious decline, perhaps Wu had the luck of the poet, “blessed to live in a time of adversity.” His exploration of the oil medium’s possibilities was reaching a peak as he moved freely between the boundaries of Eastern and Western styles. In this year’s fall sale, Christie’s proudly presents two Wu Guanzhong oils dating from 1977. Golden Field brims with rustic charm and appeal, while Lijiang Riverside (I) speaks poetically of the beauty of nature. Both embody Wu’s aesthetic goals of “modernizing” Chinese painting and “nationalizing” oil painting, along with a deeply-rooted feeling for the mountains, fields, and rivers of his native China.

In 1972, Wu Guanzhong, who had been “sent down” to the countryside, was allowed to paint on Sundays. He set up dung baskets to make an easel and painted under horrible conditions amid the yellow soil of northern China. Seeking out novel scenes around the ordinary villages of the region, he vividly depicted rural fields and growing crops, a reallife experience that injected sincere and down-to-earth feeling into his works from this period.

Golden Field was painted in 1977, the year immediately following the end of the Cultural Revolution. Its bright, resplendent yellow hues suggest the artist’s happiness and his optimism toward the future after the Cultural Revolution’s end. Only two such paintings in this artist’s entire oeuvre depict rural harvests with large areas of golden yellow colour; the other, painted on paperboard, is only one-third the size of this Golden Field. Once the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, Wu began to travel in search of new painting ideas, and Golden Field, the last of his paintings on the theme of crops and fields, was a golden punctuation mark signalling the end of his rural experiences during that era.

That same year, passing through Guilin to visit to his mother-inlaw in Guiyang, Wu created Lijiang Riverside (I), one of the paintings in his famous “Lijiang series.” Lijiang Riverside (I) is the first of four works featuring the Li River, and the largest in that group. As the harsh atmosphere pervading society began to ease, Wu’s outlook also underwent change, and he began to travel and roam around the land. We can’t help but be struck by the freshness of this painting, its exuberant greenery, and the pleasing, relaxed feel of the brushwork.

In the mid-19th century, the Barbizon School, a new movement led by Jean-François Millet, emerged in France. Its members gathered in the Fontainebleau Forest in the southern outskirts of Paris, drawing nearer to the lives of everyday people. With fine and sensitive brushwork, they set about depicting previously ignored rural landscapes, bringing new feeling and new expressions of majesty and grandeur to their subject. Wu Guanzhong’s Golden Field, depicting an expanse of rapeseed in early spring in southern China, likewise expresses an emotional attachment to and appreciation of rural crops and fields. Its warm, brilliant golden hues are visually compelling and evoke a special atmosphere, yet all of the simple and natural appeal of realism remains. The subject of this painting is simply the beauty of the open countryside; Wu builds its visual structure around an arrangement of interpenetrating lines and blocks of colour throughout the painting. In his concise, practiced and fluid brushwork, he sets out a poetic vision, communicating a deep love and appreciation for the beauty of his native land, realizing his goal of nationalizing oil painting.

"The youthful beauty of crops is not inferior, but far better that that of flowers. During my painting practice in the fieds, I've found that their forms are different day by day. Therapid growth of life from maturity to aging is the epitome of lie." Wu Guanzhhong

Wu Guanzhong’s travels around China grew from his insistence on facing his subjects directly and painting from life, rather than living in subjective imagination in the studio. Never departing from his source of inspiration in direct sense perception, the works he created always exude a fresh breath of life. Taking in the landscape around him, he would first form a conception, and further, a compositional idea, and then begin to paint. Shifting vantage points as he painted ensured a sense of both completeness and innovation as he conceived and then composed each work. Lijiang Riverside (I) is a classic work of landscape painting, employing Western techniques while reflecting aesthetics drawn from Song Dynasty painting. The combination of those elements here reflects the aesthetic goal Wu strove to achieve throughout his life, the modernization of Chinese painting. The painting’s composition is simple and straightforward, fresh, and deep in conception; Wu cleverly produces depth and spaciousness within its large areas of green by varying both the greenish hues and the brushwork he employs. Rough brushstrokes build up thickly in the mountain that rises through the upper half of the work, while in the waters below, his touch is light, soft, and diffuse. Dense forest, set out in light and delicate brushwork, occupies the middle band of the painting, as a light breeze seems to sweep across the rich swath of greenery. This immersive, wrap-around scenic experience reflects the “level distance” point of view found in classical Chinese landscape painting theory, while also drawing on more scientific elements connected with depth of field in camera lenses. In Lijiang Riverside (I), Wu Guanzhong brings home to the viewer the genuine and simple emotions we feel in the presence of such an aweinspiring scene.

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