- Wu Dayu
- oil on canvas
- 45.5 by 32.5 cm.; 17 7/8 by 12 3/4 in.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Taipei, National Museum of History, Wu Dayu, 9 March - 8 April 2001
Shanghai, Shanghai Art Museum, Retrospective of Wu Dayu's Oil Painting, 21 November - 10 December 2003
Taipei, Lin & Keng Gallery, Abstract, 11 March - 2 April 2006
Wu Dayu, National Museum of History, Taipei, 2001, p. 76
Qui Ruimin, ed., Shanghai Oil Painting & Sculpture Institute Artist : Wu Dayu, Shanghai Education Press, Shanghai, 2003, p. 57
Wu Dayu, Lin & Keng Gallery Inc., Taipei, 2006, p. 30
Wu Dayu Flowers
“Human civilization is the result of the combined force of talent and morality. It constantly strives for progress, for elevation, for the sublimation of one’s own character, for transcendence of the old and the dark; it desires light, the beauty of life, and it desires boundless love. Those who are artists must defend this belief in continual sublimation, must remain committed to it, and support it.”
Wu Dayu, in a graduation yearbook
A venerable figure at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts, Wu Dayu earned his reputation not only on the basis of his outstanding creations and his personal poise, but also because of his insistence on morality, a quality reflected in his paintings. He, along with Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh-Chun, even upon achieving international success, never failed to express gratitude to their mentors. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Wu, rather than retreating, continued to instruct his students by letters. These precious contributions not only reflect the reciprocal friendship that existed between teacher and student, but – due to Wu’s later reticence and relative isolation – have become valuable first-hand material in studying the artist’s theories and philosophies. These letters, in conjunction with Flowers (Lot1010), reveal a fuller picture of the artist’s abstract world.
Beyond Flowers: A Record of Deep Feelings
Among contemporary Chinese artists, Wu was the first to dive completely into Abstractionism. Flowers reveals the artist’s tendency toward abstract characteristics, the full and rich scene, the dense composition, the bright colours, the plentiful layers. Together these elements create a gorgeous and intricate scene that coalesces into a beautiful brocade. The complex layering of brushstrokes appears spontaneous and arbitrary, yet under careful examination, one detects the presence of chrysanthemum buds, all eager to bloom. In the lower left of the canvas, one can faintly make out the image of a parrot, standing still, a figure that adds vitality and musicality to the painting. When it came to the subject of flowers, Wu did not regard them simply as still life subjects, as did many Western artists, but instead, bestowed in them the ideas of nobility and purity for which they are symbolic in Chinese traditional painting. As Wu expresses in a poem he wrote:
"I’ve fallen in love with the luminous flowers;
Spring has arrived upon your face;
I’ve fallen in love with the purity of the exquisite jade,
concealing in its depths your splendour;
it is you who points at tomorrow’s sun."
Beyond the Image: Colour Texture and Abstractionism
Flowers has explicit Abstractionist characteristics. Although the artist worked in seclusion during the 1940s and 1950s, his ideas and concepts were nevertheless aligned with the trends of the art world, a testament to the artist’s knowledge and lofty far-sightedness. The President of the China Academy of Fine Arts Xu Jiang wrote in Shengming de shixing yu qiancheng(The Poetry and Piety of Life), when speaking of Wu Dayu, that the artist possessed “a poet-like sincerity”, and that his late works displayed his “existence in a dreamlike world”. This observation was tremendously perceptive. “Poetry” and “dreaminess” not only described the circumstances of Wu’s later life – both Wu Guanzhong and Zao Wou-ki independently described Wu Dayu’s love of poetry and the mysterious – but at the same time, “poetry” and “dreaminess” can be thought of as the footnotes to abstractionism.
As a member of the first generation of Chinese masters who went to Paris, Wu Dayu, in the 1920s, highly admired the work of Cézanne, and once studied in the studios of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle as well as Cubist Georges Braque. His foundations of form and composition were thus heavily influenced by Post-Impressionism and Modernism. After returning to China, he fused elements from the Western schools with the essence of Chinese traditional painting, using contemporary colour and form theories to digest Chinese subjects and forms. To compare Wu’s Flowers with the paintings of Qing dynasty Court Painter Zou Yigui, one sees the elements of Chinese tradition deeply infused into the marrow of Wu’s work; yet through the use of brilliant colours and linear brushstrokes as well as geometric composition, these cultural roots are digested and absorbed into Wu’s forceful personality, and fused seamlessly into his painting.