- Wu Guanzhong
- The Lu Mountains
- oil on board
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
I have met many art collectors over the past decades. To me some of them were merely gathering art works rather than ‘‘collecting’’. True collectors not only have an eye for truly outstanding artworks, they also have astuteness and sensitivity. Art for them is far beyond the work’s beauty on the surface – they probe into the subject matter and converse with it. The satisfaction and joy gained from the process cannot be expressed with words. They have integrated into the lives of the collectors. Furthermore, collecting art takes on the invaluable mission to pass on cultural heritage.
There are several particular collectors who impress me. They entered the field of collecting more than twenty years ago. In their early days, they would not miss a single work at auction that they were attracted to. Their innate artistic instinct and their trust in the specialists’ recommendations led them to build the one-of-a-kind and comprehensive art collections. Each artwork has a story that connects with them. At the collectors’ home, the artworks were presented at their best – as the shimmering skylight dazzles through the halls and corridors, the artworks radiate an eternal, reverberating glow. Among these collectors, some of them have already extended the full width and depth of their distinguished collections. In other words, they act in the Chinese community but think in a global context.
This year is Sotheby’s 40th anniversary in Asia. After achieving an impressive result in the spring sale and when the summer heat landed, one day I received a phone call from Patti Wong, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia. She informed me about an extremely important 20th century Chinese art collection that could possibly be included into our autumn sale. I then flew to London to view this collection that struck me deep in the heart. These works exemplified the development of 20th century Chinese art with paramount significance of its era. I was really impressed by this personal collection of the highest quality. Then I learned that the owner’s acquisitions also consist of Western contemporary artworks. His discerning eye for the best Western and Eastern art has gained international recognition. Many world-renowned National Museums have invited him to hold large-scale exhibitions to showcase his seminal Eastern and Western paintings - the discernable importance of his collection is indisputable.
This season, Sotheby’s 20th Century Chinese Art Department is thrilled and honoured to offer the exceptional and representative paintings (Lot 6 - 12) by a series of modern Chinese masters. We would like to extend our gratitude to the collector for his trust and recognition. I believe this exceptional collection certainly will stir up excitement to the public. It not only manifests the collector’s exquisite taste, but also acts as a key development to the 20th century Chinese art market. This crucial collection surely will become the monumental milestone to the flourishing market.
Head of Department, 20th Century Chinese Art
The Creativity of Wu Guanzhong in the 1970s
Culminating in the Masterpiece The Lu Mountains
”I tested and revealed my true self in Europe. Today, my love and devotion to Western modern art have been completely shaken. I am not willing to choose a profession for life that is nothing but a pretty flower. If painting is just about seeking some visual thrill and making something to fill an empty wall space, then no one should ever spend any time on it! In a decade, I have progressed one step at a time, slowly advancing toward a goal that even I am not sure about. For a child from a poor rural family finding his way to the heart of Western society, Paris, where people go to search for happiness, I was not connected with that society. I felt distanced from the brightly colored dance parties of Paris… After relentless searching, I realised one does not need to go to Europe, or paint under a master. You can find your own path in your own country, your own hometown, your own backyard. I have decided to come back to China!” This was written in 1950 in a letter that Wu Guanzhong sent fromFrance to his old teacher Wu Dayu at the Hangzhou Arts School.
Unlike other Chinese artists who lived in France, like Sanyu, Zao Wou-Ki, and Chu Teh-Chun, who all made France their lifelong home, Wu Guanzhong, an art authority who promoted the modernization of Chinese oil painting, decided to follow a different route. He enrolled in the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in 1946 on a government fellowship, and he studied Western oil painting while receiving a solid education in classical realist art. However, after studying for four years, he resolutely decided to return to China. For Wu Guanzhong, travel in Europe did broaden his horizons, but althoughFranceis a beautiful country, there was always a barrier between him and France. Like living in a not quite real dreamland, he described himself as a plant that can only grow on harsh soil. He felt that only the yellow earth of his homeland was suitable for allowing him to grow and to nourish his creativity.
Painting Landscapes in Colours
Having returned to his home country, Wu Guanzhong took a teaching position at the Chinese Central Academy of Fine Arts. In his own creative work, he thought that “the form and image of all art comes from life, and artworks should not lose their connection with the emotions of the people.” He wanted to paint works of art that anyone, young or old, could appreciate and be inspired by. He wanted the public to nod their heads and the experts to applaud. His themes came from the natural landscapes of his homeland, and he became well known for his natural depictions of landscapes. In oil painting, he strived to combine Oriental sentiments with the aesthetics of the Chinese people. This led him to develop a unique artistic vocabulary, and he also made some real contributions to bringing folk culture to Chinese oil painting. In the early 1960s, he not only used the city where he lived,Beijing, as his subject, but also traveled to study the landscapes of Hainan andTibet, which resulted in many inspiring works of art.
During the Cultural Revolution in 1966, due to the upheavals in the political situation in China, Wu Guanzhong was sent to labour in the villages along with multitudes of young people. He was prohibited from painting for seven years, and he finally started to pick up the paint brush again in 1972. At that time, he had built up an overflowing amount of artistic energy over a long time, so he enthusiastically threw himself into painting. He did not reject the idea of painting on commission for the authorities. He treasured every opportunity to create art. This was his golden age of creativity when he was very productive. For example, in 1973, he painted the Yangtze River 10,000 Li Painting for the Beijing Hotel and created a powerfully majestic masterwork, Three Gorges for the National Museum of China. This brought him widespread recognition, and he reached a peak of his fame and accomplishments. In this period, Wu Guanzhong often spent time away from his studio and rode a bicycle or took a bus to the outskirts of the city and other regions to tour famous Chinese scenery so that he could come face to face with the scenes in his heart. He would set up his easel and stand in one place painting for eight hours in a row, forgoing food and drink until he had captured the essence of the scenery in his painting. The painting The Lu Mountains (Lot 6) was completed in 1974 under these circumstances. It is the classic example of the oil painting works of his peak period of the 1970s.
The Lu Mountains themselves are famous peaks in China, they are know for having “majestic, unusual, dangerous, and outstanding” scenery. In the painting by Wu Guanzhong, he does not emphasize the conspicuously lofty nature of the mountain but instead uses a very special angle to allow the viewer to view the mountains through four green trees in the foreground and their interlacing branches. Using powerful and decisive brush strokes and a unique observation angle, he composes the mountain scenery that might be seen in daily life by the common people. This allows the viewer to feel as if they are there in person, standing side by side with the painter on a journey. This viewing angle can also be seen in the work Jour Gris, Bords de l’Oise by the impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, found at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Without using ostentatious words, we can say that the masters of the East and West tried to fuse some living experience of the people of the land into the paintings, and they have depicted moving scenes with the modesty of the countryside, creating a warm and friendly feeling.
A Unique Perspective
Shi Tao, the ink painting master of the Qing Dynasty said, “When I draw ancient pine and juniper trees, I only depict three or five trees. They stand tall and heroic, stretching to the sky, with a sense of freedom.” In The Lu Mountains, Wu Guanzhong carried on the feelings of Shi Tao in the trees in the foreground of the painting by observing every section of the trees, their stances, and their personalized characteristics. Through the big contrasts of the attitudes of the different elements of the painting, the different angles they are hit by light, and the changes of the many colors of similar hue, the painter gave the trees the beauty of free-flowing nature and brilliant movement. He used the painting knife to meticulously carve the weathering on the trees and used the ink to fill in the green leaves, revealing a robust calligraphy brush stroke and ingenious inspiration. The houses scattered in the valley in the middle ground of the painting extend toward the mountain peaks in the distance. The smears of the tangerine-red roofs change in size depending on the distance of the space. It not only inserts a lively rhythm into the painting, but also makes the painting’s sense of distance extend further, making use of the Western technique of perspective. The colour contrast of the red tiles and the green mountains reveals the architectural style of Chinese folk culture and the colour aesthetics of the East. This is where the features of Eastern and Western art naturally embrace and inspire new life.
The Lu Mountains are a place that has incubated Chinese history and culture, and many literati throughout history, such as the Eastern Jin Dynasty poet Tao Yuanming and the master painter Wang Xizhi, have lived here, wrote poetry here, and passed culture down through the generations. Tao Yuanming’s famous poem Drinking Wine writes, “Plucking chrysanthemums by the east wall, I behold southern mountains at leisure.” The southern mountains in this poem refer to the Lu Mountains. The Inscription on the Wall of Xilin Temple of Song Dynasty writer Su Shi also says, “I see not the true face of Lushan mountain because I am in the mountain.” The masterpiece of famous northern landscape painter Jing Hao of the Five Dynasties, Mount Lu, also depicts the Lu Mountains. Wu Guanzhong enjoyed reading ancient Chinese literature and surely had an impression of the famous mountains of China described by the writers who came before him. The Lu Mountainscan be seen as the culmination of the important thoughts that he developed after traveling to distant parts ofChina and observing the true nature and spirit of the landscape. Thanks to his brilliant and proficiently profound use of colors and layout, we too can feel the passion that he felt for the land and nature as well as his fusion of Chinese and Western sensibilities in the creation of his own new school of aesthetics.