Lot 1013
  • 1013

Wu Dayu

6,000,000 - 8,000,000 HKD
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  • Wu Dayu
  • Flowers
  • oil on canvas
executed in the 1960s


Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei
Important Private Asian Collection
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 4 April 2015, Lot 1010
Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector


Taipei, Lin & Keng Gallery, Wu Dayu and his Students from Hangzhou School of Fine Art, 13 January - 6 February, 1996
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 1903-1988, Lin & Keng Gallery Inc., Taipei, 1996, plate 6, p. 35
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, Taipei, 2006, p. 30
Wu Chongli and Shou Chongning, ed., Works of Wu Dayu, People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, 2015, p. 86


This work is in very good condition. There is no sign of retouching under UV examination.
"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

Creating Dynamic Expressions from Transient Appearances
Wu Dayu created Dynamic Expressionism in the 1940s, and in the context of global developments in the arts, it coincided with both Lyrical Abstraction and Abstraction Expressionism, which arose in Europe and the United States during World War II. On a philosophical level, the core ideas of Dynamic Expressionism came from Chinese philosophy and aesthetics to form a style of art that could compete with abstract art in the West. To truly comprehend shixiang we must clearly understand the Modernism that Wu Dayu was exposed to during his studies in Europe, while also understanding the theories of traditional literature and painting, and in particular, the epistemologies and worldviews of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism.
In recent years, Wu Dayu’s letters and poetry have been compiled and published in Teachings of the Master and Yu’s Poems, respectively. These writings provide a great deal of assistance as we seek to understand the ideas behind Wu Dayu’s paintings. Extensive archival analysis has revealed that the xiang of shixiang is akin to the Chinese literary term yijing or “creative concept”. Yijing indicates the effective combination of setting and sentiment as well as a fusion of the objective and subjective. Likewise, in Wu Dayu’s shixiang paintings, the heart extends into objects and the self blends into the setting. Naturally, these compositions are highly abstract, but they are also filled with clues for us to follow; however, shixiang goes higher and farther than yijing, due to shi the element of movement. The Daoist master says “there is no permanent force, and there is no permanent form--knowing this, one can study the sentiments of all the myriad things” (Sima Tan, Overview of the Six Schools of Thought, Han Dynasty). The Buddhist master says, “I see with the all-knowing eye, the subtle mind of Nirvana: appearances come and go, and the subtlety within this transience is the door to enlightenment” (The Origins of the Five Lamps, Southern Song Dynasty). The shi of shixiang is a dynamic vision of all phenomena in which the myriad things merge with the self in a great transformation: thus the self becomes without limit. Understanding this concept allows us to comprehend the heights of Wu Dayu’s artistic thought. His paintings of flowers are so vital and uninhibited because he broke free from the limitations of Western still life and Eastern flower-and-bird painting traditions. Thus we can only penetrate the abstract world of the artist in paintings such as Flowers (Lot 1013) by drawing on our own spiritual insight.
Wu Dayu was the earliest Chinese artist to delve into abstract oil painting, and Flowers is one of his finer works. This bounteous tableau features a tight composition and resplendent use of colour and layering to portray the rich and various beauty of flowers that can be favourably compared to the lotuses and peonies of Zhang Daqian. The complex, overlapping linear brushstrokes seem haphazard at first glance, but upon careful consideration, we can discern various blossoms that seem almost to be competing to burst forth in colour. A parrot appears to be perched in the lower-left corner, adding a sense of life and music to the tableau.
Wu Dayu saw flowers as more than a subject for Western-style still life painting; to the artist, they possessed a noble and symbolic significance associated with Eastern traditions. As he once exclaimed in verse: “In the spring and autumn, the branches of the peach and plum trees are never bare. Who could resist such a fine sight? I forget myself as my mind is returned to clarity by a blossom rich with fragrance, reminding me that the human world contains the scent of Heaven”[i]
In Chinese art, flowers have a profound symbolic significance. They are popular motifs signifying good fortune, but also emblems of a sovereign’s fair and peaceful rule. In Flowers, the artist distils the intrinsic sentiment and spirit of the flowers to express a profound, rich, and optimistic energy. In this way, Wu Dayu models an abstract language for the Eastern world. Shao Dazhen analyses this subject in The Man Bearing the Cross: Remembering Wu Dayu:
Wu Dayu painted many still lifes. He was intoxicated by the interplay of colour, by the expressive languages of freehand (xieyi) and abstract painting, by the artistic challenge of combining the objective beauty of objects and his own subjective sentiments. Purely in terms of artistic innovation, Wu Dayu was a pioneer in the exploration of the formal language of painting. He vastly elaborated the artistic influence of the language of oil painting. In his paintings, he consistently devoted his attention to the use of line from traditional Chinese painting, and particularly, the Chinese concept and methods of freehand (xieyi) painting.
The abstract composition of Flowers, dense and compact, is based in the artist’s profound mastery of colour and volume. A member of the first generation of Chinese artists to study in France, Wu Dayu refined his skills in the studios of Georges Braque, the founder of Cubism, and the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. After returning to China, he earned the nickname “Little Cézanne” in Chinese painting circles due to the profound influence of late Impressionism and early Modernism on the style and composition of his work. He subsequently melded these influences with the quintessence of Chinese traditional art, applying modern theories of colour and style to traditional themes and images. Compared with his earlier works, Flowers shows Wu Dayu’s consolidated foundation in the style of Western Modernism, but also demonstrates the artist’s strong ideas and personal transcendence. In this way, the resplendent colours and linear, geometric composition of Wu Dayu’s painting create a completely original effect.

[i] Excerpted from “Untitled” by Wu Dayu, Yu’s Poems, Furen Shuyuan, 2016, p. 157.