Lot 1010
  • 1010

Wu Dayu

3,600,000 - 4,600,000 HKD
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  • Wu Dayu
  • Untitled 43
  • oil on canvas
executed circa 1960


Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei
Acquired directly from above by the present owner 


Taipei, National Museum of History, Wu Dayu’s Paintings, 9 March - 8 April 2001, pp.12 & 71


Wu Dayu, Lin & Keng Gallery Inc., Taipei, 1996, p. 39
Wu Dayu, Lin & Keng Gallery Inc., Taipei, 2006, p. 39
Works of Representatives of Shanghai Artists in the Century: Wu Dayu, Shanghai Shu Hua Publishing House, Shanghai, 2013, p. 37
Works of Wu Dayu, People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, 2015, p. 90


This work is overall in very good condition. The overall surface is varnished.
"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.

Catalogue Note

A Banquet of Colour, a Surge of Sentiment

Wu Dayu's Untitled 43

According to the philosophy of Wu Dayu, the universe exists in a state of constant cyclical motion. As the Dao De Jing instructs: "Attain the ultimate emptiness. Hold on to the truest tranquillity. The myriad things act in concert. I therefore watch their return". Wu observed and embraced all aspects of the world with an empty and still mind. His paintings reflected his grasp of the transformations of things, which he described as "Motion, Power, Momentum, and Change": "the change of shape and the change of force can attain a stage of power. Change includes time and space. Power changes as image changes. In fact, an image possesses structure, but also power. Time cannot stop, and art also cannot stop". As a consequence, Wu Dayu's abstract paintings are always richly dynamic. The canvas and paint may be static, but they express the movement of time and space. Untitled 43(Lot 1010), a representation of huayun or "the rhyme of flowers", highlights the dynamic power of objects. The colours are bold and intense, in a charming contrast to the quiet elegance of another of Wu's paintings, Untitled 115.

Shaping Image with Rhyme and Building Colour into Power

Intense hues of kumquat gold, lead white, scarlet, reddish black, and indigo collide in Untitled 43, resulting in a scorching symphony of melody, drums, and gongs that reaches brilliant climax. This energy reflects the artist's excitement and delight, which bloom in bold colours like nature on a midsummer's day. The composition of this painting is more abstract than that of Untitled 115; the images of flowering plants diffuse into intense colours and leaping lines. However, there is a single intact orange-and-white flower bud in the upper right corner. This lone figurative clue suggests that the artist, touched by nature's dazzling colours, eagerly sought to express not the visible images in front of him, but the vital Shixiang they contained.

Wu Guanzhong was the first to systematically analyse Wu Dayu's abstract paintings, and he vividly suggested that "Wu Dayu has devoured the Chinese notion of rhyme and also digested Western ideas of shape and colour. The greedy snake of 'rhyme' has also swallowed the image of colour". This description particularly suits the highly abstract Untitled 43. The "rhyme" mentioned by Wu Guanzhong refers to the intangible rhythms that Wu Dayu grasped through his subjective perceptions. What he has "swallowed" is objective "image". By combining the subjective with the objective, he produces the beauty of Shixiang evident in this painting.

Capturing the Myriad Things through the Theory of Visual Emotions

Wu Dayu's observations of the physical world led him to develop a theory that divided the various physical, emotional, and spiritual states of the beholder into 31 different "visual emotions" (see table below). Wu's visual emotions theory recalls the "three distances" described by the Northern Song painter Guo Xi: "level distance, high distance, and deep distance". The theory of visual emotions combines modern physics, psychology, and even acoustics. As the theoretical basis for Wu's assimilation of objective and subjective, it could be called an all-new contribution to Chinese art theory. During his time in Paris, Wu studied under Georges Braque. Braque's Cubism, which entailed subverting the visual sense, gave rise to a revolution in Western painting. Wu Dayu's distinctive theory of visual emotion is not unrelated.

Close analysis reveals that the 31 visual emotions postulated by Wu Dayu include certain contrasting relationships, such as "following" and "opposing", or "galloping together" and "pursuing". Wu also emphasized the influence of the visual emotions on the beholder's psychological and spiritual state: "agreeable" or "stirring", "perplexity" or "dream-wandering", "mystical power" or "apprehending nature". These ideas shed light on the standards Wu applied to his observations of physical objects, and in particular, the subject material he chose for his paintings. For example, in Untitled 43, Wu must have been inclined toward the following visual emotions: "following" (the source of light follows the viewer's perspective), "movement", and "agreeable". In contrast, Untitled 115, another huayun painting, suggests different visual emotions: "opposing" (the source of light is behind the tableau), and "leisure". An understanding of Wu Dayu's theory of visual emotions is extremely beneficial to interpreting his abstract paintings.

Colours that Sing and Dots that Mark the Soul

The colours in Untitled 43 are dazzling, and in fact, Wu Dayu was known for his use of colour ever since he began painting. As early as 1929, Lin Wenzheng exclaimed in the bimonthly magazine Apollo that "as soon as the paints touch his palette, they seem to endlessly change, like the musical score of a composer! Wu has already developed a profound understanding of what Western artists call 'making the colours sing". The same year, the critic Li Puyuan published an analysis of Wu's brushwork in the same magazine. Li pointed out that Wu uses both pointillism and long strokes, and had even experimented with using oil paints in the bold, jagged fupicun style of traditional Chinese painting. Indeed, the painter's use of colour and brushwork was highly practiced and polished.

The lines of Untitled 43 are short and vigorous. Wu dipped his brush before each stroke, and wielded it in an unconstrained and rapid fashion. Each dot and line possesses strength and weight. Compared to the natural force of Untitled 115 , this painting displays a completely different style. Yu Yunjie, the famous Suzhou School realist painter, once collaborated with Wu Dayu. Yu recalled that Wu often told his students: "your colours must have spirit, and your brushstrokes must have life". The brushwork and use of colour in Wu's paintings directly express the essence of his sentiments. He used riotous colours and robust brushstrokes in Untitled 43 to depict his intense emotions, which appear vividly on the canvas.

Wu Dayu's Song of the Painter is an extraordinary tour de force that sums up the life of the artist, underlining the changeable nature of life, the artist’s devotion to and deep respect for art, as well as his unwavering commitment to virtue and beauty: the monologue in the poem is like a confession to the creator of the world. The artist has endured various trials and tribulations, yet he harbours no resentment, displaying a martyr’s saintly quality and purity of spirit, (his works) encompassing the ultimate considerations, from personal to universal, from a fleeting moment to the eternity; in the middle section is the description of a scene, which turns the philosophical mutual connection between the celestial and the mortal into a movie-like visualisation, filled with dramatic tension and affecting power. Wu Dayu’s painting pursues spirits within colours and life within brushstrokes. His Song of the Painter employs a clean, simple and concise language, his emotions soaring and sonorous, moving and profound, it is without a doubt an absolute masterpiece of the grand scale. Its literary value alone makes it a classic in modern Chinese poetry.

Song of the Painter

Time has tormented lives throughout the ages; he who has achieved nothing leaves behind evidence of his defeat.

Cleverly reincarnates loneliness bit by bit, the pure heart cannot be woken up even with a will to forget about love so as to waste the world away.

Without hesitation I destroyed my art studio, within which infinite brilliance was hidden;

Know this fact which there is however no need to doubt,

that this is a withered day ultimately not eliminated by the cosmos.

My supreme superior, please be seated in your eternal position, and examine the righteousness that stands in front of you;

allow me to paint with my brush the ravishing beauty of the slowly-evolving human world, pointing out how thousands of miles of mountains begin here.

This is freedom; this is perfection and beauty,

this is honour and elegance;

for you, I painted thousands of subtle variations of sweetness and charm.

From the past, through the future, to the present,

is the dashing appearance of collaboration between God and myself.