When nature is drenched with rain, it's the same as with your clothes—the colours become deeper. Trees are even greener, waterfalls whiter. For more than a week I went out painting every day in the rain, and I had to blow off beads of rainwater that formed on my canvas and my paint palette. In my oil paintings I captured the beautiful foothills of Yulong Mountain, the Yulong foothills dripping with rain. I dearly love the paintings that were born on those rainy days.
—Wu Guanzhong, Recalling Yulong
In 1978, Wu Guanzhong was able at last to return to the Yulong Snow Mountain so dear to his memory. Wu's feeling for that spot began with Li Lin-tsan, his roommate at the Hangzhou Academy of the Arts, who would later be an art historian and Deputy Director of Taiwan's National Palace Museum. At the end of the 1930s, when Li was trekking and painting scenes from life in Yunnan, he sent Wu a fountain-pen sketch that sparked the latter's fascination with this sacred snowy mountain. A yearning to visit the mountain haunted Wu until his dream was finally realized 1970s. In several essays penned by Wu on the subject of painting from life at Yulong, he writes about how he braved thunderstorms as he rode on a truck out from Lijiang, and afterwards waited for days in a lumberjack hut until the rain clouds dispersed so that he could glimpse the face of the snow goddess in the peak.
In Wu Guanzhong's Yulong Mountains After Rain (Lot 16), an oil work from 1996, he returns to the subject of an earlier work from his Yunnan journey, showing how vividly he remembered this dreamy snow-covered expanse of mountain. While Wu is often best known for his work in coloured ink, his choice of oils for this painting perhaps reflects his use of that medium in his original on-site painting, and thus was a moment of personal reflection on the past despite having already transitioned from oils to the ink medium. Comparing this with Wu's 1978 ink-wash painting Waterfalls at the Foot of the Yulong Mountains, with its nearly identical composition, the viewer can see what a mature and refined understanding the artist had developed in his East-West fusion of oils and inks (Fig. 1). Adopting the best of both worlds in his painting techniques enabled Wu Guanzhong to create an even more beautiful depiction of this mountain scene through his own naturally fluid brushwork.
The brushwork with which Wu sets out the leafy forest in Yulong Mountains After Rain derives from traditional Chinese ink painting techniques; it's not difficult to see the influence of the Northern Song master Guo Xi's brushwork in the alluring air of the woods. However, for his presentation of the rocks and flowing stream, Wu leans toward oil technique, brushing in large, flat areas of colour to produce the rough textures and volumes of the boulders. In his composition Wu employs essentials of the 'deep distance' perspective technique of Song Dynasty landscape painting (Fig. 2). He deepens the sense of space through Western effects of light and shadow and bright and dark tones, capturing on his canvas the deep and mysterious feeling of this secluded Yunnan forest, with its deep valley and clear, rushing stream. Wu Guanzhong repeatedly painted Yulong Mountain; the fantastical, dreamlike quality of its sacred whiteness was an image that also symbolized the nature of his unending pursuit, since the time of his youth, of artistic dreams. Wu's persistent fascination with this mountain could be likened to Cezanne's similar fascination with and his repeated painting of his own Mont Sainte-Victoire; in both cases, their depictions of those peaks embodied, in concentrated form, much of their artistic thinking over a period of decades (Fig. 3).
In 1997, not long after finishing Yulong Mountains After Rain, Wu Guanzhong once again met Li Lin-tsan, who was no longer in good health, when he traveled to Canada to take part in an exhibition of famous 20th century Chinese artists. Yulong Mountains After Rain not only displays the fruits of Wu Guanzhong's deep consideration of artistic ideas over the decades; it also reflects his long-sustained feelings for the snowy mountains of the southwest, and the equally long-held feelings of friendship that ran between these former roommates like a high mountain stream.