Lacebark Pine in the Beijing Imperial Palace Oil on canvas, framed Signed Tu in Chinese Dated 86 (1986) Signed, dated and dedicated on the reverse 61cm x 50.5cm (24in x 19¾in).
Provenance: formerly in the collection of Professor Sheung Chung Ho (1937-2010), former Chairman of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (see the Note in lot 807 for a brief introduction of Sheung Chung Ho)
The lacebark pine, with its tall, picturesque form and a canopy of luxuriant green, has always captured Wu Guanzhong's imagination. Devoting a section on this topic, he once wrote poignantly, "Among the various trees in the Imperial compounds, I love the lacebark pine, for its brightness and speckled trunk dominated by light gradations of green. Occasionally, a pale smear of red appears, followed by sudden flashes of black ink strokes. That is a withered, broken branch, which adds to the overall visibility of the trunk structure the best subject for oil painting. The branches arch tastefully, twisted and full of rhythmic pleasure, while the pine needles spread evenly. Shimmering sunrays and twinkling stars shine through the green sieve of leaves to pattern the ground with spots of light. The Imperial Palace, Jingshan, Circular City, Beihai, the Summer Palace, the Royal Mausoleum of Ming......all house upright, multi-trunked lacebark pines, the most splendid few even had Imperial stipends provided for their care!" (See Wu Guanzhong, The Birth Stories of Wu Guanzhong's Works, People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, 2008, p.77.)
In 1975 alone, Wu Guanzhong consecutively created a series of oil paintings on this subject using various techniquestitled 'A Lacebark Pine of the Former Imperial Palace I', 'A Lacebark Pine of the Former Imperial Palace II' and 'A Lacebark Pine of the Former Imperial Palace III'and in the following year, he painted 'A Lacebark Pine of the Jing Mountains' in gouache on paper. (See in sequence, Shui Tianzhong, Wang Hua eds. The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong, Volume 2, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha, 2007, pp. 295, 296, 298; The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong, Volume 3, p. 71.) This series of lacebark pines differs in composition and colour. 'A Lacebark Pine of the Former Imperial Palace I' shows a robust, tall tree, reinforced by the use of dark green and greyish black background colours, which add to the profound and melancholic atmosphere. As for 'A Lacebark Pine of the Former Imperial Palace II', our gaze is directed in a lofty, upward direction. Wu used an interwoven patchwork of brown and black to portray the undulating rock surfaces that curve upwards and towards the Imperial Pavilion, which appears to stand above and look down upon the entire vista. In contrast, 'A Lacebark Pine of the Former Imperial Palace III' and 'A Lacebark Pine of the Jing Mountains' present a full spread of branches and pine needles in brighter tones of silvery grey and light brown. This series of works is a testament to the artist's experimentation of this subject in various vantage points as he moved his easel repeatedly.
The present lot 'Lacebark Pine in the Beijing Imperial Palace' extends Wu's preferred composition of placing a tree in the foreground against the background building. From the level view, he depicted a thick, sturdy trunk and led our attention to the rough, weathered textures of the exfoliating bark and the dented, uneven rocks. The colourfully flaking bark and the branches reaching out in all directions create a sense of escalating tension, while the Imperial Palace sits quietly on layers of ever-changing strange rocks and desolate hills, as if aloof from all worldly concerns. Wu introduced bright hues such as white, yellow and red into the dominant greys and blacks to inject geometric charm and vital energy into the scene. Not only do thick brushstrokesat times short, at times twistedbring about the rich layering of the rock landscape and the beauty of the peeling bark, they are also a reminder of Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)'s artistic influence.
It is rare to find three signatures of Wu on the front and back of the canvas. The inscription on the reverse, "To Mr Chung Ho in commemoration," shows the extraordinary friendship between Wu Guanzhong and Sheung Chung Ho (1937-2010).
Note: Sheung Chung Ho, pseudonym Shuzhai, was a native of Shandong province. He studied at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the 1960s and began his teaching career at the University after receiving his Master of Philosophy degree. In 1978, he was chairman of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature. Not only was he well-versed in the studies of ancient Chinese civilisation, he was a specialist in paleography and was passionate about the research and creation of Chinese paintings. His contributions to the promotion of Chinese arts and cultures were remarkable and profound. In 1997, Mr Sheung moved to Macao and became a professor of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Chinese History of Chu Hai College and the New Asia Institute of Advanced Chinese Studies. He also served as a consultant to the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Macao Museum. In 2005, the Macao Museum of Art held the exhibition 'Paintings and Calligraphy by Sheung Chung Ho' and published a catalogue in conjunction with the event. In recognition of his artistic contributions and achievements, the Chinese University of Hong Kong organised 'Professor Sheung Chung Ho Memorial Exhibition of Calligraphy and Painting' in 2011.