- Wu Guanzhong
- The Qianling Mountains
- signed in Chinese and dated 72; signed in Chinese, titled and dated 1972 on the reverse
- oil on board
- 46 by 46 cm.; 18 1/8 by 18 1/8 in.
Wu Guanzhong: Chinese Contemporary Art Anthology Vol. I, Hill Art Gallery, Kaohsiung, 1997, p. 51
Wu Guanzhong, The Landscape of Life Vol. I: Wu Guanzhong's Album in Art, Joint Publishing, Beijing, 2003, p. 53
Shui Tianzhong & Wang Hua, ed., The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong Vol. II, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha, 2007, pp. 196-197
Wu Keyu, World Famous Painter: Wu Guanzhong, Hebei Education Publishing House, Shijiazhuang, 2010, p. 105
Wu Guanzhong's 1970s masterpiece The Qianling Mountains
Wu Guanzhong suffered severe hardships during the long social upheaval of the 1950s and 1960s. He had even been forbidden to paint for 6 years. After long and hard times, he was finally permitted to paint during holidays and festivals after 1972. His passion, which had been suppressed for years, flooded back to him and he became very productive. As he had been immersed in country life for a long time, Wu Guanzhong absorbed the vitality of folk life and his style began to change from the academic works he painted during his time in Hangzhou and Paris. The Qianling Mountains (Lot 1008) marks the peak of Wu Guanzhong’s oil painting and his outstanding individual aesthetics.
Turning a corner in life
All of Wu Guanzhong’s paintings bear the marks of his life. In terms of the medium, The Qianling Mountains was painted on a wooden plank. It is a historical record. Due to poor conditions of the time, Wu Guanzhong and his students could not afford painting implements. They could only buy small black boards to use as painting boards and dung baskets to use as easels. This was a symbol of Wu Guanzhong’s determination in spite of poverty. As for the theme, Wu Guanzhong was sent to the countryside to work as a farm labourer in Beili Village, Hebei during the late 1960s. During this period, he was only given a vacation of one month to visit Guiyang because his mother-in-law was seriously ill in there. Due to the tight schedule, the Guiyang-themed works he painted during this journey are particularly rare. Qianling Mountain is located 1.5 kilometers from the city centre. A full urban park covering an area of 426 hectares had been built there after 1957. It is a rare large-scale natural and ecological scenic spot in an urban area with convenient transportation; therefore it was the ideal place for Wu Guanzhong to paint.
Tempering a pure beauty of form
In the 1970s, Wu Guanzhong focused on landscape painting and was deeply inspired by modern Western masters. Influenced by Cezanne’s works, Wu Guanzhong strove to rid himself of the influence of literariness and paid greater attention to the composition of the painting as well as the combination of colours to highlight the formal beauty of the subject. Qianling Mountain is known as the “the highest peak of southern Guizhou province” with an elevation of 1,100 to 1,396 meters. Wu Guanzhong emphasized the height and steepness of the mountain in his painting. The painting is full and well-structured. The magnificent image of the lofty mountain is represented on the limited space on the canvas.
Besides highlighting the overwhelming scale of the lofty mountain, Wu Guanzhong also used complex and exquisite colour combinations in the painting. By layering colours to form textures, he successfully demonstrated the mountain’s grandeur. The mountains in the background were mostly painted in green and grey, representing a geological structure with interlinking rocks and vegetation. The part of the mountain that is lit up painted in light grey and a yellowy brown while the part in shadow has layers of green dots, which shows the relationship between light and shadow, as the light shines into the canvas from the right. The green and grey tones are mixed with varying degrees of blue, yellow and red. The colour separation is even more detailed in the shadow section. If Qianling Mountain and Paul Cezanne’s La Montagne Saint-Victoire are viewed at the same time, we can see echoes between the two.
Of all Wu Guanzhong’s landscape paintings, “The Tree” is often seen as the finishing touch. Wu Guanzhong painted the tree in his own style. He often painted trees according to the reality he saw, while transforming and transplanting based on his subjectivity. The two trees in the foreground of Qianling Mountain obviously refer to the oriental plane common in Shanghai and Paris as well as the classic “Crab Claw Tree” in ancient Chinese paintings. They are extremely lifelike and vigorous and are typical of Wu Guanzhong’s tree painting style. Wu Guanzhong stressed that paintings should “make it full of life” not “lifeless”. Only by injecting vitality into one’s works can the painter enter into a dialogue with the audience. Most of the subjects of landscape paintings are static. Therefore, the painter must use a number of elements to add life to the painting. Trees are the most flexible and dynamic elements, and the easiest to call upon in natural landscapes.
The Qianling Mountains reveals the tranquility, stability and endurance of nature through the image of mountains. The artist also highlights nature’s vitality, vividness and beauty to convey the expectation of his unyielding soul through the extremely tall trees. Wu Guanzhong was ingenious enough to paint a row of trees in the foreground to reduce the sense of distance between the audience and the mountains.Once the viewers are led into the forest and mountains, they have a clear focus. Though their vision is impeded by the woods, they can still move their eyes through the trees in the foreground to the mountains in the distance, and then up to the peak. The audience wanders through space as time progresses. Therefore, the composition of the whole painting is compact and complete.