The development of modern art in China cannot be understood apart from the vagaries of its political environment during recent historical eras. During the 1920s, Western classical realism and aesthetics were introduced into China, but the course of art history underwent a major shift in 1942 when art was identified as a primary tool for the propagation of political views. Mainstream art focused strongly on ideological themes, and realism became the dominant style for depicting everyday life. By 1978, China entered another new period of opening and reform, allowing artists the freedom to explore much broader horizons. New diversity in art forms was introduced and China's art schools gradually became centers for experimentation in modern art. Wang Yidong was one artist who engaged in exhaustive study and experimentation that led him in a new direction, developing a highly individual style somewhere between tradition and the new wave, embodying both Eastern and Western aesthetics but preserving his own purely humanistic aesthetic intentions.
Wang's aesthetic vision resulted in a fusion of his photo-realistic technique and his own rationalized adoption of Neoclassicism. A Quiet Valley (Lot 1001) maintains Wang's essential idealism with an archeologically realistic environment and classical themes, but draws them into a modern and decidedly Chinese context, suggesting parallels between the two periods of political idealism, struggle for liberty, heroism, austerity and the values of simplicity and human virtue. Wang's attraction to the beauty inherent to simple, quotidian scenes, particularly in portraiture, is manifest in Nude (Lot 1353) and Wish (Lot 1429) where he depicts an understated beauty with a minimal palette or in succinct pencil markings. His 1980s work clearly exhibits the origin of his artistic dexterity as he illustrates the warm ambiance of the room, his oil used in atmospheric effects of soft yellow tones and gently blurred contours. In his latter works, the contours have become firmer and increasingly persuasive with a sharp focus on the protagonist's face; both Wish and A Quiet Valley posits supreme importance on the neutral facial expression as Wang's attempts to extract the psychological state of the two protagonists, a result that is enthralling in its understated demeanor.
Set at an anonymous lakeside, a female protagonist of tender age sits in a pose of reserved femininity. The nature is scarce of decorative foliage or ripples of water, merely smooth and translucent, expressing a silence that suggests the transcendent purity of nature. Though serenely motionless, bare in depiction and intentionally composed with snap-shot like frame, Wang inserts discreet touches of life to the environment with visually gentle yet lively waterfall on the right. In the upper background, the soft and cool rocks curve inwards, geometrically balanced to bring the focus to the centre with sheer streams of water trickling down the arched surface; the lower rock serves as a base in elevating the perception upwards with its subtle gradation of moistly toned shadows from below to the dry, illuminated top of the rock. While the vigorous contrast of the white rocks against the searing red attire of the girl may cast an obvious spatial and pictorial dichotomy between foreground and background, subject matter and environment, the sitter's elegant composure mirrors the contours of the rocks, running from the upper left, where the girl tilts her head passively to her right where her hands are, delicately interlocked hands and back to lower left and the gentle positioning of her feet.
The pose of the subject maneuvers the composition, bestowing immense attention to the girl and the seemingly flat and shallow space, allowing for growing realization of the staged reality of this scenery. Wang captures the essence of modern China by mixing an elusive realism with an abstract sensibility to create psychological and compositional tension. Established as Wang's personal, historical and iconographic motif, 'China red' is the principal colour of his composition, evoking aspects of China's age-old history and culture. Aware that the red colour has gradually instilled itself in the consciousness of the Chinese people as the deeply-rooted symbol of their own nation and culture, he knowingly employs the colour with its multiple meanings: wellness, good fortune, happiness, luck, long life, honor, peace, unity, success, devotion, courage, prosperity, romance, warmth, sexuality, zeal and more, enriching the painting and its aesthetic harmony.
As neoclassical painters emphasized symbolic costumes and settings, Wang, too, favors painstakingly choreographed images. The fragile innocence of an adolescent girl becomes his ideal means in contemplating the vulnerability of human virtue. Clothed in elaborate red, our sensitivity is heightened with our immediate nostalgia for the sociological and political past; however, her red top is decorated in an exotic floral pattern, her tidily braided hair ornamented with blue and red elastics rectifying our initial emotions, as we realize that the girl is simply adorned in feminine fancy. Highly sentimental, Wang's painting favors aesthetic autonomy as we begin to nurture for the girl in the painting, protecting onto her youth and innocence aching pasts or even concerns over the hectic modernization that is taking place outside her valley. Regardless, such measures are deliberately interwoven by Wang to trigger a subjective intimacy from the viewer with his paintings.
Wang's paintings may appear to display an affinity for conventional realism, but he adds symbolic and emotional layers in his execution, quietly theatrical composition, and feeling for abstraction and narration. The nature in A Quiet Valley has been stripped bare of its living vegetation, but as if to satisfy our innate search for flora, Wang replaces them in patterns of yellow tulips, cotton white lilies, and leaves on the clothes and handkerchief of the girl; such visual conundrum affirms his work as a modernized interpretation of classical realism, indicative of his awareness for the contemporary human condition.