Lion Grove Garden in Suzhou Ink and colour on paper, framed and glazed With three seals of the artist and one seal of the collector 69cm x 138cm (27in x 54¼in).
Provenance: formerly in the collection of the paleographer Ma Kwok Kuen (1931-2002)
吳冠中 蘇州獅子林 設色紙本 鏡框 一九八〇年代作
鈐印: 荼、八十年代、吳冠中印 藏印: 羊城馬國權所藏書畫
來源: 古文字學家馬國權 (1931-2002) 舊藏
First built in the Yuan Dynasty, the Lion Grove Garden is one of the four famous gardens of Suzhou recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Origins of the Lion Grove Garden vary, but it is generally believed that the name came about in 1341, when disciples of the beloved Zen Buddhist monk Weize constructed a garden for their master a year after he travelled to Suzhou to preach his teachings. Monk Weize named the garden in memory of his teacher Abbot Zhongfeng who attained nirvana at the Lion Cliff of Mount Tianmu in Zhejiang Province because the Chinese word for lion (shi 獅) was symbolic of the Buddhist Lion's Roar Sutra sharing the same pronunciation as 'teacher', 'master' or 'preceptor' (shi 師). The name is also fitting due to the many large and grotesque rocks that resemble lions in shape.
To Wu Guanzhong, the Lion Grove Garden is a world of rockeries brimming with fantasy and imagination. The oddly-shaped forms, whether round, uneven, hollow, aspiring or accommodating, in the form of a lion, tiger, bear, leopard, man or nothing, became inspirations for his abstract art. (See Wu Guanzhong, The Birth Stories of Wu Guanzhong's Works, People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, 2008, p.69.)
Wu had repeatedly commented that abstract aesthetics is the nucleus of formal beauty, which is tightly intertwined with life. He insisted on painting landscapes through first-hand observations of nature, instead of reproducing them in his studio, claiming to "have gone on painting trips for sixty years, as long as his entire artistic career." (See Wu Guanzhong, 'Illusion' in Guangming Daily, Beijing, 25 September 1996.) In the 1980s, Wu first sketched the rockeries and stone bridges of the Lion Grove Garden on paper using carbonic-inked pens. He then reworked the compositions into larger formats to include fish ponds in the foreground. On this topic, the artist provided a thoughtful analysis, "When I sketch the Lion Grove Garden, I note its ups and downs, its spacing, its flowing lines, its maze of nooks, crannies, caverns and peaks of all sizes, thus stirring a storm of dots, lines and planes. The Lion Grove's stream of consciousness and its structural forms are all abstract, and the beauty of this abstraction is guarded by the figural portrayal of pathways, pavilions, pines and swimming fish. I accentuate the abstract forms to promote the aesthetics of the garden designer." (See Wu Guanzhong, The Birth Stories of Wu Guanzhong's Works, People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, 2008, p.69.)
It is currently known that the present lot, 'Lion Grove Garden in Suzhou', is one of Wu Guanzhong's six extant works on this topic. For other similar paintings in ink and colour on paper, see Lin Rixiong eds. Wu Guanzhong Paintings, Hebei Art Publishing House, Hebei, 1984, pp.60-61; Hui Lai Ping eds. Hanmo Series A22 Paintings of Famous Modern Chinese Artists: Wu Guanzhong Companion, Hong Kong, 1997, pp.44-45; Shui Tianzhong, Wang Hua eds. The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong, Volume 6, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha, 2007, pp. 160-161, 179; Sotheby's Hong Kong, A Private Collection of 20th Century Chinese Paintings, 5 April 2011, Lot 1171.
Wu devotes two thirds of the composition to the labyrinthine grotto of rocks outlined by quick, flowing lines that are straight, folding, wavy and arching. Some appear elegant and tasteful, some bizarre and grotesque, some large and imposing, some delicate and bright. Patches of colours such as yellow, green and pink imbue this oriental landscape with rhythm, charm and a playfulness often seen in western pictorial form. Corresponding to the abstract rocks are pine trees, passageways, pavilions and reflective waters that assume more defined forms. The swimming fish, floating duckweeds and the travellers in the pathways heighten a sense of movement, infusing the scene with life. This work is of a standard size in Wu Guanzhong's oeuvre. Through exquisite brushwork, a myriad of colours and clear layering of forms, Wu skillfully leads us into his world of abstract art.
Ping Zhai explains, "Wu Guanzhong's later works show his signature, but not those executed in his earlier years." (See 'An Analysis on the Forgeries of Wu Guanzhong,' published in Hui Lai Ping ed., Hanmo Mo: A Magazine of Chinese Brush Art, Volume 6, Han Mo Xuan Publishing Co., Ltd., Hong Kong, 1992, p.65.)
Zhou Shi shares the same view on Wu Guanzhong's signing practice, "Wu normally did not sign on many of his works after completion. He would only sign his name on the piece when he wanted to let it go. Wu said Picasso also had the same practice, therefore he did not sign his name on many of this works even until the end." (See 'Analysis on the Lying Buddha by Wu Guanzhong,' published in Hui Lai Ping ed., Hanmo Mo: A Magazine of Chinese Brush Art, Volume 6, Han Mo Xuan Publishing Co., Ltd., Hong Kong, 1992, p. 73.)
This work shows imprints of the artist's frequently used seals. Although his signature is absent, this is in line with his ink painting practice.
Note: Paleographer, calligrapher and seal-carver Ma Kwok Kuen assumed teaching positions at Jinan University and the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. In 1979, he turned to news reporting at the Hong Kong Ta Kung Pao, editing its three weeklies on art and literature. He was a researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Centre for Chinese Archaeology and Art in 1981, also teaching calligraphy and seal-carving at the University's Department of Fine Arts. He was an academic committee member of the China Calligraphers Association and served on the boards of Xiling Seal Engraving Society and the Society of Chinese Paleography. Since 1997, he was hired as a researcher at the Art Museum, Chinese University of Hong Kong on a 2-year term. Ma was subsequently appointed by Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department as art advisor and honorary museum consultant, also board member of Xuehai Shulou. He had since resided in Hong Kong, dedicating his life to the arts and humanities.