WU GUANZHONG 吳冠中 | SCENERY OF NORTHERN CHINA 北國風光
Estimate Upon Request
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE ASIAN COLLECTION
SCENERY OF NORTHERN CHINA
oil on board
signed and dated 73 in Chinese; titled and dated 1973 in Chinese on the reverse
71.7 by 160 cm; 28 ¼ by 63 in.
吳冠中 北國風光 一九七三年作（畫背）
71.7 x 160 cm; 28 ¼ x 63 in.
The work is overall in very good condition.
Upon very close inspection, there is a negligible horizontal trace at the upper right near the top edge, which belongs to the original condition of the work.
Examination under UV light reveals very minor signs of retouching along the extreme edges and four corners, some of which are associated with the original artist’s nails that are affixed to the board.
"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."
Christie's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2007, Lot 205
Important Private Asian Collection
Modern and Contemporary Masters in China - Wu Guanzhong, People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, 1996, p. 136-137
Wu Guanzhong Paintings - A Selection of 128 Fine Works, L'Atelier Productions, Singapore, 1996, p. 72-73
Shui Tianzhong & Wang Hua ed., The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong Vol. III, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha, 2007, p. 212-213
Wu Guanzhong Vol. II, Jiangxi Fine Arts Publishing House, Nanchang, 2008, p. 280-281
"The Capital Airport was built in 1979, and the Central Academy of Craft Art was responsible for the internal murals and decorative paintings. I was assigned a six-meter-wide mural on the wall of the western restaurant... In order to complete the task safely, I transplanted Scenery of Northern China, a painting which I created in previous years."
Excerpt from Wu Guanzhong's Revisiting Old Paintings, 2002
Forging an Epic Masterpiece of Heroic Romanticism
At the start of the Cold War era, just when People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, Wu Guanzhong made a personal decision to forgo his career in Paris, where he was living at the time, and pledged to use what he had learned abroad in the service of his country. In the almost 30 years that followed, Wu remained steadfast in his commitment to modernism and Chinese art, and he made great strides in localizing oil painting and modernizing Chinese ink painting. In 1978, reflecting the atmosphere of renewal and optimism that swept throughout mainland China during the new era of Reform and Opening, the Central Academy of Craft Art in Beijing was commissioned on a project of national importance: painting the murals at Beijing Capital Airport. More than 40 professors together created masterpieces that covered nearly 500 square meters in what was undoubtedly the most important mural painting movement in modern Chinese history. At the time, Wu Guanzhong was teaching at the Central Academy of Art and Design, and, in 1979, he painted Scenery of Northern China, a grand mural extending six-meters in length, which was to be displayed on the wall of the Beijing Capital Airport’s western restaurant. This work was Wu Guanzhong’s contribution to this massive, historic national art program. In 1973, six years before he created this large mural, Wu painted its predecessor, an oil painting surging with heroic romanticism entitled Scenery of Northern China (Lot 1013). Sotheby’s is proud to offer the masterpiece Scenery of Northern China (1973) in this autumn’s Modern Art Evening Sale to commemorate Wu Guanzhong on the tenth anniversary of his pass-away.
The largest of Wu Guanzhong’s oil painting created before Reform and Opening to remain in private hands, Scenery of Northern China takes Mao Zedong’s well-known poem Snow: To the Tune of Spring in Qin’s Garden as its subject. It presents a magnificent winter scene from northern China, in which rising peaks tower above a vast wilderness covered in pure white snow. The canopy of a massive pine rises before the central peak, signifying an indomitable vitality and tenacity against overwhelming setbacks. The vanishing point on the left centres on a train emitting billowing steam, in echoes of the undulating Great Wall on the mountain ridge. The majestic northern landscape depicted in “Snow” is represented in a vigorous, uninhibited way in this work of art.
Wu Guanzhong was famed for his landscape paintings, which came from the artist’s wealth of experience in painting and sketching from nature. A Spring Morning of the North (oil on board, 64 x 110 cm, collection of the China Art Museum, Shanghai), painted in 1965, represents the vast natural landscape of northern China in a realist style and could be seen as the forerunner to Scenery of Northern China. In 1973, Wu painted Scenery of Northern China, and because the subject of this painting is so special, its overall style embodies a strong romanticism. This endless landscape and flickering silvery light naturally echo the stillness of “Snow,” as depicted in Mao Zedong’s poem. The composition also draws inspiration from a classic of 19th-century Romanticism, Caspar David Friedrich’s Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Wanderer Above the Sea Fog). In Mao’s poem, “Mountains dance like silver snakes” resonate with the line “Within and without the Great Wall,” while Wu Guanzhong added a steam engine that was not described in the poem. This addition reflects the tendency to emphasize the industrialization of the Chinese landscape that began in the 1950s, and is also reminiscent of British landscapes painted by 19th-century British master J. M. W. Turner during the Industrial Revolution. Around the time Wu Guanzhong painted Scenery of Northern China in 1973, he also accepted the commission to paint the mural Ten Thousand Miles of the Yangtze River for the Beijing Hotel. For this work, he traveled with Yuan Yunfu, Zhu Danian, and Huang Yongyu to explore in depth the Yangtze River drainage basin. He painted The Yangtze River Bridge at Nanjing, The Three Gorges at the Yangtze River, and other important works that brought together scenes of natural magnificence and major modern constructions. The introduction of the train into Scenery of Northern China reflects the fusion of a Western classic with his own first-hand experience. The large pine placed front and center in the painting showcases Wu Guanzhong’s well-known “grafting” technique, which gives the painting a rich vitality, while also maintaining a balance between the upper and lower, foreground and background portions of the work. In traditional Chinese culture, pines are one of the “Three Friends of Winter,” symbolizing vigor and perseverance. The painting is so natural that the traces of the artist’s tools are almost invisible.
Both Mao’s Snow and Wu’s Scenery of Northern China describe scenes with power, but the truth of the works lies in emotional expression abounding in heroism and romance. The year that Wu Guanzhong painted Scenery of Northern China – 1973, amid the Cultural Revolution – was the same year the artist rose from despair to triumph. He was allowed to return to Beijing from Li Village in Hebei, where he had been sent for re-education, and the six-year ban imposed on his painting had begun to be lifted in gradual stages. This sparked a wellspring of new life and creative passion, which elevated Wu Guanzhong to a golden era in his oil painting. With the addition of the material shortages at the time, the large painting was all-consuming for the artist. If Lotus Flowers (I) (oil on canvas, 120.5 x 90.5 cm, 1974), which sold for HKD 130,773,000 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2019, symbolizes the artist’s upright character, then Scenery of Northern China expresses his farsighted, lofty aspirations. In the 1960s and 1970s, Mao Zedong’s poems were considered the crystallization of the leader’s thinking, and they spread across the nation like wildfire. Thus, we can imagine their influence on Wu Guanzhong. Six years later, Wu undertook the important task of painting the Capital Airport murals with the Central Academy of Art and Design. This draft for the wall painting Scenery of Northern China, the work that would eventually be presented in the Beijing Capital Airport’s western restaurant, represents the synthesis of Wu’s ideas and Mao’s poetry in a national endeavor. The emotions he conveyed in the painting reflect his great hopes for the Capital Airport mural project and for Reform and Opening. Wu Guanzhong’s oil painting masterpieces from the 1970s, which have similar dimensions, brilliance, and historical meaning to Scenery of Northern China, can only be found in the collections of important museums and institutions, including The Yangtze River in 1974 at the Palace Museum in Beijing, A Greeting Pine at Beijing Station, The Hometown of Lu Xun at the Lu Xun Museum in Beijing, The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River (1977) at the National Art Museum of China, Greater than the Tai Mountains and Spring Snow at the National Museum of China, and The Three Gorges of the Yangtze River (1979) at the Great Hall of the People. Scenery of Northern China is the only work of this caliber and period in a private collection, which adds to its rarity and value.
吳冠中以風景作品馳名，其風景作品又以豐富深刻的寫生經驗為基礎：1964年，吳冠中創作出《北國春曉》（油畫木板，64 x 110公分，上海中華藝術宫藏），以寫實筆調呈現中國北方遼闊曠旱的自然風貌，可視為《北國風光》之先聲；1973年，藝術家創作《北國風光》，由於本作題材特殊，其整體風格更多體現了濃厚的浪漫主義特徵。本作銀光閃爍﹑接天無窮的景象，固然呼應《沁園春・雪》上闕，亦似有汲取十九世紀歐洲浪漫主義經典﹑弗雷德里希《霧海上的旅人》之靈光；毛澤東在詞中以「山舞銀蛇」呼應「長城內外」，吳冠中卻在本作加入詞中未有明言的蒸汽火車，此舉除了反映五○年代以來，中國大陸風景繪畫強調神州大地工業化面貌的創作傾向，亦讓人聯想到十九世紀英國風景大師透納以工業革命之後的英國風景入畫，譬如他在1844年創作《雨，蒸汽和速度—西部大鐵路》，即以一輛高速迎面駛來的火車，對照大自然的凜烈風雨；吳冠中在1973年創作《北國風光》前後，接受了北京飯店《長江萬里圖》壁畫之任務，與袁運甫﹑祝大年﹑黃永玉沿長江流域進行深度探風，並創作出《南京長江大橋》﹑《長江三峽》等兼具大自然雄奇景色與現代化大型建設的重要作品，可以理解《北國風光》引入火車，正是藝術家融鑄西方經典﹑並結合親身體驗而成之構想；正前方之巨松，更明顯可見吳冠中運用其著名的「移花接木」技巧，使得畫面富於生機，同時保持上下方與前後景之平衡。中國傳統文化中，松乃「歲寒三友」，象徵蒼勁與堅忍，此舉可謂渾然天成，不見刀刻斧鑿之痕跡。
無論是毛澤東的《沁園春・雪》或吳冠中的《北國風光》，其寫景雖然筆力雄渾，真意卻在借景抒情，表現澎湃激盪的英雄主義與浪漫情感；吳冠中於1973年創作《北國風光》，知人論世，此乃藝術家在「文化大革命」中否極泰來的年頭，不僅從下放勞動的河北省李村回到北京，長達六年的繪畫禁令亦逐漸解除，嶄新的人生與創作激情噴薄而生，催生其油畫創作的黃金時期，加上當時材料匱乏，大幅作品必然傾力施為；同期鉅作之中，如果說去年於香港蘇富比以130,773,000成交的《荷花（一）》（油畫畫布，120.5 x 90.5公分，一九七四年作）象徵藝術家的風高亮節，那麼《北國風光》則表現他志在千里﹑問鼎巔峰的壯心豪情。六﹑七○年代，毛澤東詩文被視為領袖思想結晶而在舉國熾熱流傳，可以推想藝術家亦或受到感染，憑詞寄意一展懷抱；六年之後，吳冠中隨中央工藝美院肩負起首都機場壁畫之重任，作為最終展示於首都機場西餐廳的《北國風光》壁畫畫稿，可以視為藝術家將個人情懷﹑領袖詩詞﹑與國家任務結合為一，憑藉詞情畫意，對於首都機場壁畫工程，以及其背後象徵的改革開放寄予厚望。與《北國風光》在尺幅﹑精彩程度與歷史意義相近的吳冠中七○年代油畫鉅作，盡皆見諸重要博物館與機構典藏，如故宮博物院的《一九七四年長江》﹑北京車站的《迎客松》﹑北京魯迅紀念館的《魯迅故鄉》﹑中國美術館的《長江三峽》（一九七七年作）﹑中國國家博物館的《重比泰山》與《春雪》﹑人民大會堂的《長江三峽》（一九七九年作），傳承於私人收藏者，唯本幅《北國風光》，由此益其珍罕無匹之價值。