A German Travel Diary: Building a Bridge of Friendship between China and East Germany
In 1957, China and East Germany signed a cultural exchange agreement. East Berlin held a large-scale exhibition of Chinese art, and China sent a delegation of two professors, Guan Liang and Li Keran, to attend the opening. Before this exchange, Guan had never set foot outside of Asia, and it a stroke of luck that allowed him to make his first visit to Europe. This was not just a matter of national honour; it was the realization of a long-cherished dream. When he mentioned his trip to East Germany in Guan Liang: A Memoir, he could barely contain his excitement, "I studied Western painting in Tokyo, and I encountered the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Manet, Monet, Matisse, and others. When I was young, I hoped that one day I would have the chance to visit and admire the places where these artists worked… I was excited and a bit apprehensive when I set out from Beijing with Li Keran. " The Chinese professors held their own exhibitions during their visit, and local visitors poured in to attend this unprecedented event. The East German side was hospitable, taking the two artists to see local churches and museums. Guan seized the opportunity to make some impromptu oil sketches, recording his impressions of the scenes along the road—Europe seen through the eyes of a stranger. Tree and Bridge (Lot 1016) was created during this time. This is one of Guan’s few surviving oil paintings from this period, and stands as a rare example of his East German Landscape series.
Experiencing a climate, geography, and environment that was decidedly different from his home country, Guan Liang was suddenly gripped with new inspiration. As a result, the palette is bright yet refined, and the brushwork is forceful yet vital. Every stroke reflects the artist’s joy at that time. Guan outlined the forms of the branches on the trees, the bridge over the river, the grass, and the European architecture in black, giving them a sense of volume and creating planes through flat paint application with a broad brush. He accomplished this quickly with practiced brushstrokes, and he brought the spirit of Chinese painting into his work, injecting poetry into the realism. This exquisite work expresses Guan Liang’s deep appreciation for local culture from the perspective of an outsider. Through his work, he built a solid symbolic bridge of friendship between China and East Germany, reflecting his mission as a cultural ambassador. Although the work features a Berlin landscape, every aspect of the painting reveals Guan Liang’s pride as a Chinese painter and represents the historically meaningful equality of Eastern and Western art in the 1950s.
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