Born in a farmer's family in Yi Xing County, Jiangsu Province, Wu Guanzhong is the oldest son of the family. With limited resources, Wu Guanzhong lived up to the high expectations of his parents and admitted into the Department of Electric Engineering sponsored by the Zhejiang University in 1934. A visit to Hangzhou School of Arts changed Wu Guanzhong's life. The aesthetic beauty of art led Wu Guanzhong to take part in the enrollment examination of Hangzhou School of Arts despite objections from his family, consequently embarking on an artistic journey of a lifetime. Wu subsequently qualified for studies in France with funds provided by the Ministry of Education of China. In 1947, he sailed across the vast ocean to study abroad.
Three-year overseas studies in France allowed Wu to grasp the essence of Western arts, especially Modern art, while at the same time, causing Wu to experience all the sufferings of a Chinese person in a foreign country. While recalling his life, Wu once said, "Being an outsider and staying in a foreign country to study the good things of others as we do not have such good things ourselves. So I just swallow such grievances and learn those good things." Wu's passion for art has inspired him with unlimited motivation and peerless endurance. He used every minute of his studies in France to master the essence of Western art.
Wu strongly believes "Art could only be created from an innocent and selfless mind and could only germinate in one's own soil." With his faith of "developing a new branch from his own traditional roots" , and the encouragement from his advisor Professor Souverbie, Wu was determined to go back to China in 1950. After he returned to his country, Wu Guanzhong travelled and painted scenes of China, beginning an exploration path towards the "nationalization of oil paintings."
Art critics Professor Gao Juhan and Professor Cao Xingyuan indicated, "The issue that must be faced by artists in China is how to continue their own traditions in what they learned in the West and how to integrate Western arts with Oriental arts." Wu once learned Chinese ink paintings from Pan Tianshou and was especially fond of Shi Tao and Ba Da Shan Ren, believing that they were classic masters who created impressionist paintings by expressing a melancholy sensibility with only blank spaces, omitted paintbrush strokes and the splashing of ink. In addition, during his studies at Hangzhou School of Art, Wu came under the deep influence of the Western artistic theories of Lin Fengmian and Wu Dayu. His studies in France again prompted Wu to master the essence of the West, especially Impressionist and Modern art.
For Wu Guanzhong, the diversifying color choices of oil paintings are good at expressing ever changing natural colors. But while smooth water ink can bring out the Oriental flavor and grace, it is hard to express them with the rich texture of oil colors. Aiming at a breakthrough, Wu was not content with ink lines that bordered on paper cut silhouettes even if he was highly respectful of Chinese calligraphers and painters such as Shi Tao and Ba Da Shan Ren. Wu deeply believed that to resolve the conflict between Chinese and Western arts, Chinese and Western arts would certainly be joined by being complimentary and elevate to a higher artistic level.
In the 1970s, Wu Guanzhong's works were mainly oil paintings. Wu insisted that impressionist oil paintings must be based on natural feelings. In addition, Wu Guanzhong took turns creating work in pure oil paintings and dyed ink, in hopes of integrating the traditional Chinese style in Western forms and structures, thus achieving a new example that combined aesthetic beauty in natural and form. Saplings by the Sea (Lot 568) and After the Rain (Lot 567) happen to provide the experience as to how Wu Guanzhong combined the techniques and strengths of Chinese calligraphy and paintings with those of Western oil paintings and gave expression to the Oriental flavor and the qualities of the Chinese ethnicity, as well as the common feelings of the Chinese people.
Saplings by the Sea uses smooth touches from Chinese paintings to describe a trove of densely packed tree saplings on the seaside. The thin branches and the slender buds emanating from the branches are mixed and mushrooming with great vigor. The straight lines of rows of tree trunks contrast with the horizontal lines of the tranquil and vast ocean. At the same time, Wu uses the strong sense of color in Western oil paintings to express an azure blue sky and an ocean that stretches as far as the eyes can see. Wu more painstakingly placed several humans in the bushes and the contrast between human and the trees is immediately apparent, thus enhancing the endless vitality hidden in nature. Wu combines the strength of Chinese and Western arts to overcome their weaknesses, thus capturing and expressing his own feeling and spirit of nature.
Although there is a conflict between Chinese and Western arts, there is a room for them to co-exist. With a deep love for his motherland and hometown, an ever existing inquisitiveness and a creative spirit of establishing the new, Wu germinated and developed branches in space where Chinese and Western arts are fused together. He combined the techniques and strengths in Chinese calligraphy and Western oil paintings, giving birth to the art with Oriental flavor and the qualities of the Chinese ethnicity as well as the common feeling of the Chinese people. Wu Guanzhong blazed a new path for the nationalization of oil paintings and the modernization of Chinese paintings. He not only created art that originated by himself, but also enriched Chinese traditions by crating Chinese oil paintings that combine the essence of Chinese and Western arts.