Author: WU GUANZHONG 吴冠中
Signed and dated: Painted in 1962
Estimate: No Reserve
Final Price: RMB 11,000,000
2012 Collected Works of Wu Guanzhong X / P194 / Hunan Art Publishing House
2015 Independent Spirit - Wu Guanzhong Art Exhibition / P12-13/ Baiyaxuan
2019 Wu Guanzhong’s Painting Notes / P19 / Shandong People’s Publishing House
signed in Chinese and dated 1962
2014 Art and Universe · Wu Guanzhong Art Exhibition， Baiyaxuan， Beijing
2015 Independent Spirit - Wu Guanzhong Art Exhibition， Baiyaxuan， Beijing
2016 Three’s Company · Road to the Peak - Dong Xiwen， Wu Guanzhong， Shao Jingkun Art Exhibition， Baiyaxuan， Beijing
As we recall Wu Guanzhong’s artistic creation journey spanning over 60 years， it can be distinctly divided into 2 major historic periods：
I Portrait creation period， that is， from his return from abroad in 1950s to 1962. In this period， Wu was mainly dedicated to portrait creation， but the vast majority of his works， especially his nudity-themed pieces， were subject to destruction in the Cultural Revolution， therefore in the sense of the collection/research on his works， these rare pieces are almost extinct.
II Landscape creation period， that is， since 1962. Owing to the drastic conflict between， the western impressionistic techniques and Chinese traditional free stroke spirit adopted by Wu in his creation of portraits， and the realistic techniques demanded by the contemporary politics， namely， depicting the heroes like industrial workers， peasants， soldiers in a fashion characterized as “healthy heroes， lifelike techniques， bright tones”， he was therefore frequently criticized and “forced to rebel and turn to landscapes”（Quoted Wu）. Until his final years， his paintings were mostly about landscapes.
Wu said： “Since my first day of studying painting， I have been dedicated to portraits. However， the accusations like ‘Defacing workers， peasants and soldiers’ were haunting me like Monkey King’s incantation， but I wouldn’t bow to vulgar artistic views at the expense of my own value， so I was forced to divert my attention to landscapes”. The Portrait of Zhu Biqin is one of the few exquisite pieces left by Wu during his portrait creation period. Though his artistic career was long， Wu’s portraits modeled on his wife， Zhu Biqin， are no more than 3 in total， among which this one， created in 1962， is the earliest （The other two， created in 1995 and 1999， were collected respectively by the National Art Museum of China and Tsinghua University Art Museum）. This piece is the last work in his portrait creation period， and also the exclusive canvas oil painting portrait masterpiece created by the painter in this period that is available for circulation （ the painter’s early poverty made him unable to afford expensive canvases， therefore the other portraits were all created onwooden plates， which were donated to various major galleries ）.
Wu once said： “For all my life I only think high of three persons： Lu Xun， Van Gogh and my wife. Lu Xun sets me directions and inspires me with his spirit； Van Gogh inspires my personality and individuality； and my wife helps me fulfill my lifelong dream of plainness， benevolence and beauty.” Wu was mainly dedicated to portrait creation during his stay in Paris， and after returning from Paris in 1950s， mainly taught nudity sketching in the Central Academy of Fine Art （CAFA）. He once expressed his strong inclination to share with his students his enthusiasm about Cézanne and Matisse. From the Plebeian Democracy Enters Tibet， the watercolor portrait created in 1961， it can be perceived that Wu’s portrait creation focused on the conveyance of spirit and the coordination between image and spirit. However， the contemporary CAFA was dominated by realistic paintings whose themes were needed by political propaganda. Though in terms of language， they pursue rigid imagery and proportionality， they are prone to stereotype their images owing to the relative lack of individuality. Therefore the western impressionistic style Wu promoted was rejected unsurprisingly. “After 2 years of teaching， the Literary and Art Rectification Movement happened， in which I became the target of public criticism and was said to be a fortress of capitalistic formalism”. “The feedback to my works was bad， my works were said to be of formalist style. My works would not be accepted however I revised them. And later when I tried other themes， I was said to be defacing workers， peasants and soldiers…Squeezed between the east and the west， I couldn’t find my way. There’s a river between me and the leaders/populace. I can’t find a bridge， not even a single-plank bridge. ”Later Wei Tianlin recognized his talent and transferred him to the newly established Beijing Art Academy to teach portrait painting. From 1956 to 1964， “during the 8 years when I was in Art Academy， I faced the human body and taught oil painting， tried my best to fabricate the artistic youth in my mind， elucidated the views rejected in CAFA， and even went as far as talking of formal beauty and painting localization.”
“For as long as half my life， I’ve been questing after imaging rules， spirit and structure among nude bodies. A whole volume of western fine art history is almost all about the development of aesthetics upon human body. In 1980s/90s， when I recalled the instructions received in 1940s/50s and those given by my instructor Jean Souverbie， I found not a single work， not even a nudity sketch， because they were all destroyed in the Cultural Revolution.” This Portrait of Zhu Biqin is kept till now only because it was sent elsewhere as a gift. Michael Sullivan， the internationally renowned expert on art history， once reviewed the portrait that， “In 1962’s painting， the extremely stereoscopic head and shoulder of that woman shows that Wu’s quit from portrait made a void in China’s modern art”， “It can be confirmed that when he returned to China from Paris in 1950s， he could be called an established painter of western school. His color and boldness in oil painting at that time has surpassed Xu Beihong and Liu Haishu， and even his teacher Lin Fengmian”.While the reputed U.S. art reviewer Richard Barnhart once wrote： “The light tone of the work， the firm techniques， the simple brushwork with slightly calligraphic uniqueness， the painter is trapped in a sensible and delicate image—an image of a flesh-and-blood woman. In an era like 1962 in China， to perceive a character to such an extent is commendable.”It shows this piece presents a pretty forward-looking artistic standard and important artistic value in China’s contemporary character painting history， embodies Wu’s prominence in character painting. Therefore this work occupies an irreplaceable key position in his lifelong creation sequence， which shows Wu has made trailblazing contributions to both China’s landscape painting history and the character painting history.
Starting from 1962， the painter “was unable to endure apathetic， stubbornly rational realism” and blindly “creating pieces for political motives like ‘healthy heroes， lifelike techniques， bright tones’ without a slim sense of art， so he ‘rebelled’ and turned to landscapes ”（quoted Wu）. In this sense， this Portrait of Zhu Biqin， full of Wu’s affection， becomes a milestone signifying Wu’s transition in painting as well a masterpiece in Mr. Wu’s portrait history.
There are three persons who I value the most in life： Lu Xun， Van Gogh， and my wife. Lu Xun offered me guidance and high spirit； Van Gogh gave me characters and uniqueness； while my wife completed the dream of my entire life， ordinary， kindness， and beauty.
- Wu Guanzhong