Author: WU GUANZHONG 吴冠中
Signed and dated: Painted in 1963
Final Price: RMB 23,000,000
2007 The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong II / P140 / Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House
2010 An Unbroken Line: In Memory of Wu Guanzhong / P110 / Poly Art Museum
2014 Chinese Contemporary Masters Silkscreen Print Series, Wu Guanzhong / Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House
2019 Wu Guanzhong Landscape Model of Oil Painting / Cover / Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House
signed in Chinese, dated 1963
As a pioneer of Chinese art in the 20th century, Wu Guanzhong devoted his whole life to the study of “nationalization of oil painting” and “modernization of Chinese ink paintings”, carrying out reform and innovation within the traditional art system and outdated artistic concepts. During decades of his artistic career, he continuously explored the integration of Chinese and Western art, introducing atmospheric perspective and rich colors of oil painting into Chinese ink paintings, and incorporating the brush stroke interests and artistic conception of ink-and-wash painting into oil painting, so that the two art forms can penetrate each other and combine organically, creating a brand-new visual language system, which is based on the local traditional culture and is complementary to the western artistic thinking patterns. As he said: “The basic factors of formal beauty include form, color and quality. I use oriental quality to swallow western form and color, which is greedy like snakes swallow elephants.”
The history of Wu Guanzhong’s landscape painting creation can be traced back to his studies at the National Arts Academy of Hangzhou in the 1930s, when the he often sketched by the picturesque West Lake. During this period, Wu Guanzhong, under the influence of his mentor Lin Fengmian’s concept of “harmonic centre”, began to attempt personal expression of landscape painting, but in terms of language and form, he did not show a revolutionary change. In the 1940s, Wu Guanzhong went to Paris and studied oil painting in the studios of Dubai and Jean Souverbie, during which he painted a lot of European urban landscape sketches. At this time, under the influence of French street landscape painter Maurice Utrillo, he gradually formed his own style of landscape painting language, that is, smart and concise composition, harmonious and natural color tone, and the in-between state of concrete and abstract painting style.
The early 1960s, for Wu Guanzhong, who was over forty years old, was the mature stage of his landscape painting. After returning from abroad, Wu Guanzhong was faced with a completely different social and cultural atmosphere from France. Due to the need of national ideology, “socialist realism”, which emphasized that art should serve the political propaganda, became the main direction of artistic creation at that time. In this case, Wu Guanzhong resolutely chose landscape painting as the main line of his personal creation, on the one hand, in order to stick to his artistic stand, and on the other hand, to continue his in-depth excavation and exploration of the artistic noumenon, that is, the oil painting modeling language itself, in a security field far away from politics. He claimed: “I really can’t accept other people’s formula of “beauty” to depict workers, peasants and soldiers. Without other choice like being forced to go to Liangshan, this is the original intention of me to switch to painting only landscape paintings.” After that, Wu Guanzhong traveled across the country and created a large number of sketching works. Among the countless beautiful scenery, the water town in the south of the Yangtze River is the most fascinating scenery for him, which appears repeatedly in his creation in various periods and also records the changes of Wu Guanzhong’s perspective and style. This “By the side of the Fu Chun River” was created in 1963 when Wu Guanzhong went to Fuchun River in Zhejiang to sketch. Wu Guanzhong once created many works with the same theme, which ran through the 1960s and 1990s. This painting was realistic and decorative, while his other works in the 1970s were local realism. After the 1980s, the familiar Jiangnan water town has completely become a strange abstract symbol. “By the side of the Fu Chun River is the key work in Wu Guanzhong’s oil painting, as the turn of his style from the early realistic style to the later abstract style.
In 1950s and 1960s, Wu Guanzhong’s artistic exploration mainly focused on the integration of Chinese and Western art. Because the combination of oil painting, watercolor and ink painting obtained an unexpected and vivid effect, Wu tried his best to incorporate the characteristics of ink painting into oil painting, which also added a hazy uniqueness to his landscape painting. However, Wu Guanzhong’s works at this stage are generally based on realism. From “By the Fu Chun Rivers”, it can be seen that the waterfront and trees are real and recognizable, but at the same time, they are not a complete imitation of objects, but combine sketching with freehand brushwork, use multi-angle perspective to create illusion, and create a poetic atmosphere of Chinese landscape painting through imaginative scenery. In the 1960s, Wu Guanzhong’s landscape painting theory gradually matured in a large number of practices. In the article “Talking about Landscape Painting” published in the early 1960s, he expounded a sketch creation method of freely organizing pictures, which was different from the western sketch creation method and the Chinese memory creation method. It was the integration of the two methods, without being limited by space and time, and without sticking to the object itself, and incorporating the factors of imagination into the sketch. He no longer agreed with the fixed way of framing in western paintings, but held that it should be synthesized and refined by changing the perspective and recreated in sketching.
“By the side of the Fu Chun River” embodies Wu Guanzhong’s theory of landscape painting creation. The picture composition is concise. From a flat perspective similar to that of Chinese landscape painting, when you look at it, the riverbank meanders away. Over the open and wide water surface, some ships dock quietly, and some ships pass slowly. In close-up, some massive rocks are scattered at the edge of the water, with patulous branches of two dead trees. The artist uses blocks laid out in a bold way---the water surface and the riverbank constitute the turquoise block surface and the white block surface respectively---to divide the picture, and then form a contrast with the block surface using the tree branches delineated with fine brush works. Gray tone of trees and rocks, green tone of water surface and white tone of stream bank constitute a three-stage color structure like music rhythm, so the whole picture conveys vivid and lively rhythm in the contrast between block surface and line, in the contrasting colors, and in the well-conceived composition, just like nature itself.
Wu Guanzhong mainly created oil paintings in 1960s, but rarely created ink paintings. However, ink paintings still had an important influence on his paintings, which can be seen from the sparse composition and lonely artistic conception of this painting like the landscape of Northern Song Dynasty. In the painting, there are no mighty and towering mountains of the northern school landscape, but there are images of coldness and remoteness represented by islets. The aesthetic conception can be obtained in randomness, vastness and bareness. At the same time, the simple and concise images are covered with thick and bright colors, thus obtaining a delicate decorative interest. Wu Guanzhong combined the simplicity of landscape painting with the rich color of oil painting, which broke down the barrier between the eastern and western art forms. Not only did it show no disharmony, but it also created an elegant and gorgeous style intentionally or unintentionally. As he said: “One who mixes with vermilion will turn red, inks black. The Chinese sentiment in oil painting and the western style in ink painting often affect each other unconsciously.”