Realism has a timeless appeal to artists and collectors. Even in today’s art world, where conceptual artworks dominate one end of the market, there are still many artists who continue to use classic techniques to portray contemporary subject matters. Over the last 40 years, American collector, art historian and businessman Frederick Ross, has built his collection of 19th century European paintings by William Bouguereau, Edmund Blair Leighton, John William Waterhouse, Jules Lefebvre, among many others. In 1999, Ross and a group of other scholars formed the Art Renewal Center, a nonprofit educational foundation ARC (Art Renewal Center). It has played an instrumental role in the re-appreciation of traditional art and a re-insurgence of the teaching techniques of the old masters. Ross first learned of Shen Hanwu’s work in 2001. His passion for realist art finally led him to collect Shen’s works and made him indulge in the beauty of Shen’s pastoral paintings.
Shen Hanwu was born in 1950 in Wuhan, Hubei province. In the 1980s, he became famous as a book illustrator. In 1986, Shen entered Wuhan Art Academy and became a professional artist. Throughout the 1990s his oil paintings were frequently exhibited in national fine art exhibitions and in 1995, Shen became a member of the Chinese National Artists Association.
In Strange Forest (Lot 547), a young girl is surrounded by trees and mist. She has a look of both wonder and strength. The mist of the forest almost makes her appear as though she is in a dream. In On the Way (Lot 548), the young girl sits on the river bank, where icy clear water gently touches her feet. Her eyes look into the viewers as if she is about to tell us her story. We could imagine a beautiful summer day and feel the heat, the joy, the relaxation of the heroine. Shen’s attention to details and exquisite brushworks truly portray an ambience of idyllic serenity. Fong Yuk Yan, owner of Yan Gallery, Hong Kong once commented on the artist’s art: “He is a good storyteller. It is not surprising that each of his paintings tells a story. The country girls, workers and Red Guards he portrays are all linked to his own life; they are people who have been close to him – colleagues, choolmates and friends – each one representing a personal experience.”
Shen observes his motherland with sentiments and worries about the fast-growing economy brining not only wealth but fear and anxiety to his people. He laments the fast-disappearing beauty of nature- through his works. Shen strives to preserve the image of a pure land, in the hope to use this very image to touch upon the hearts of the viewers and to initiate a conversation between human and nature. The gentle feelings and warmth we feel when examining his works echoes the sincere wishes from the artist.
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