WU GUANZHONG 吳冠中 | SCENERY OF GUILIN 桂林景色
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE ASIAN COLLECTION
SCENERY OF GUILIN
oil on board
signed and dated 73 in Chinese; signed, inscribed and dated 1973 in Chinese on the reverse
64.2 by 42 cm; 25 ¼ by 16 ½ in.
四叔嬸指教 冠中、碧琴敬贈 一九七八年
64.2 x 42 cm; 25 ¼ x 16 ½ in.
The painting surface has recently been cleaned, and the work is overall in very good and its original condition.
Conservation report is available upon request.
"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.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Collection of the artist's uncle and aunt (gift of the artist in 1978)
Private Asian Collection
Christie's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2007, Lot 206
Important Private Asian Collection
“It was late 1972…we went to Guiyang to visit my ailing mother-in-law. On our way, we traveled through Guilin. We were only able to stay in Yangshuo for a day and an evening. Even for such a brief visit, how I longed to paint one painting in Yangshuo!”
Wu Guanzhong, excerpt from The Sentiment of Paintings in the Rain
In late 1972, en route to visiting his ailing mother-in-law in Guiyang, Wu Guanzhong and his wife stopped briefly at Yangshuo. Undeterred by the inclement weather and intermittent rain on that day, Wu Guanzhong insisted on painting and completed several sketches overnight – works which would go on to inspire his Guilin-themed paintings. Completed in 1973, Scenery of Guilin (Lot 1014) is a rare masterpiece that began Wu Guanzhong’s Guilin series which spanned two decades. From the thick layers of rich pigments in the oil painting emerges a gentle, pensive aesthetic that is characteristic of ink-and-wash tradition. The two traditions are seamlessly fused, testifying to the inextricable connection between the artist and Guilin, while also marking a breakthrough in the artist’s explorations in finding a Chinese voice in the genre of oil painting.
Through the 1970s, Wu Guanzhong visited Guilin three times. It was the focus of seven oil paintings created by the artist, according to The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong, and within the works completed between 1972 to 1973, Scenery of Guilin was the only one that combined the views of the mountains, villages and the river. While the works of the Guilin series are unified by a single theme, each painting reflects the artist’s continuous search for renewal and change. The present work represents a perfect combination of personal feelings and environmental elements, expressing the artist’s personal aesthetics to the fullest. Wu Guanzhong presented this work as a gift to a family member shortly after he completed the painting, which further suggests the deeply personal nature of this work. This in addition to its artistic value makes the masterpiece a truly exceptional treasure.
Silk Ribbons and Jade Hairpins
The composition of the present work is highly original in the way it draws the viewer into its world. The trees have all but lost most of their autumn leaves, and yet they rise strong and decisive in the foreground. Their branches offer thin cover to the white houses in the villages, which remain clearly in view. The last of the season’s red leaves decorate the tips of the tree branches, imbuing the picture with a vivid and crisp autumnal atmosphere. On the lower right-hand corner, the bright green water of the Li River meanders, guiding the viewer into the core of the composition. The two hills in the middle, the key feature of the painting, occupy two-thirds of the picture. Using mountains as the key feature is unique in the artist’s Guilin series. The white houses in the villages are arranged with a certain unspoken rhythm, first making an appearance just barely perceptible between the two hills, then allowing the gaze to travel further down to the open space in front of the hills, which suddenly spreads out at will, like a waterfall, creating a powerful visual impact. Such a unique composition is subtly matched by The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, a large-format masterpiece currently held at the National Museum of China. The present work was completed four years earlier than The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River. It is apparent how much the artist was deeply fond of this composition, which would later be applied to large-format masterpieces, a testament to its landmark position in the artist’s creative journey.
In the essay “Where Are the Fine Landscapes?,” Wu Guanzhong wrote: “The true beauty of the nature of River Li is found in the ‘silk ribbons’ and the ‘jade hairpins.’…I want to use the contrasting splendor of the two to construct a beauty between the concrete and the abstract, as the key focus suffusing the entire picture.”
The artist references the ink-and-wash sensibility from traditional Chinese painting, interpreting the landscape in front of his eyes with the texture of silk and jade. The River Li appears light and otherworldly, like silk ribbons, the mood soft and feminine. The mountains stand in the middle, heroic and grand, full of vitality. In the distance, the mountains appear almost translucent, warm, smooth and gentle like jade hairpins. In the Southern climate, brushstrokes of an oil painting were combined with an ink-and-wash atmosphere to create a symbiotic relationship, the Daoist wisdom, of yin and yang nurturing one another, on full display.
Sentiment and Landscape Fused into One
Wu Guanzhong’s personal journey is interwoven into every brushstroke of Scenery of Guilin. The hardship of his life during the 1960s and 70s never eroded the artist’s ambition and integrity. On the contrary, it reinforced his dedication to artistic pursuits. The present work should not be interpreted as a simple recreation of a view, but rather a heartfelt display of the artist’s outlook toward life, as well as his optimism for the future. Through the tender and gentle Guilin landscape, and the handsome, heroic peaks, the artist expressed his open, peaceful state of mind as well as his fearless, insurmountable spirit.
本畫構圖匠心獨運，以巧妙的佈景方式引人如畫。前景中，秋樹蒼勁利落，向上延伸，吳冠中藉之稍作遮擋，巧妙地避免了中景中白房村落的一覽無餘，反倒更加令人想要一探究竟；樹尖以紅葉點綴，秋日爽朗之生氣頓生畫面；右下角碧青的漓江水蜿蜒向深處，帶領觀者的視線進入畫面骨幹。立於正中的兩座山頭佔卻畫面三分之二，無疑是本畫當仁不讓的主角，而如此以山為主角的思路在藝術家桂林系列當中，可屬獨一無二的構圖處理。白房村落錯落有致，先在兩山間若隱若現地點綴，繼而引導視線下行至山前開闊平地處，頓時肆意分散開來，猶如一道奔流的瀑布，極具視覺衝擊感。此獨特構圖與中國國家博物館珍藏之巨幅《長江三峽》（400 x 300 cm，1977年）異曲同工，而本畫在《長江三峽》誕生的四年之前已完成，可見藝術家對這一構圖的無比鍾情，將其作為日後創作的靈感藍圖沿用至恢弘鉅作中，其承前啟後之重要地位可見一斑。