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Lot 345
Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010)
A Fish Pool in the Mountain City
26 May 2012, 10:00 HKT
Hong Kong

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Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010)

A Fish Pool in the Mountain City
Oil on canvas, framed
Signed Tu in Chinese
Dated 1987
Signed, dated and titled on the reverse
With the Hefner Galleries' label on the reverse 105cm x 78cm (41¼in x 30½in).


An American private collector, purchased at Hefner Galleries, New York, in 1989
By descent to the present owner

Liu Pusheng, Cai Peixing eds. Chinese Modern and Contemporary Paintings: Wu Guanzhong, People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, 1996, pp.162-163.
Shui Tianzhong, Wang Hua eds. The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong, Volume 3, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha, 2007, pp.226-227.

吳冠中 山城鱼池 油彩畫布 木框 一九八七年作

簽名:荼 一九八七
背面簽名:吳冠中 山居 1987



Wu Guanzhong's 'A Fish Pool in the Mountain City', or 'Mountain Village', is a masterful representation of the artist's proficiency in working with oil on canvas while simultaneously showcasing his ability to embrace the deepest roots of the Chinese landscape painting tradition. Painted later in his career at the age of 68, this composition bears witness to the fact that from his youth he studied European and Chinese painting techniques together, producing a fluent merger of the two traditions. As a member of the second generation of twentieth century Chinese artists trained in Europe, Wu Guanzhong was among several talents who experimented with oils on canvas to regenerate traditional Chinese painting following his three-year academic training in Paris. Unlike his teacher Lin Fengmian (1900-1991), Wu Guanzhong continued to paint both in oils as well as the more traditional media of ink and paper for most of his career.

Painted in 1987, this canvas was one of a select group of oil paintings created after the artist returned to Beijing. Inspired by trips to Jiangnan and India earlier in the year, these compositions were frequently based on sketches created during his journeys. In his essay 'Hua Zhi' the seminal seventeenth century master artist and theorist Dong Qichang (1555-1636) stated his oft repeated dictum that in order to paint a landscape, an artist should read ten thousand volumes and travel ten thousand miles. Wu Guanzhong remained an ardent traveller in his later years, not only returning to Europe, but also visiting the Chinese countryside. These sojourns would be the source for some of his best-loved and most important paintings, exemplified by the current lot.

Working in the oil medium allowed Wu Guanzhong to capture the scenic realism while conveying an understanding of late nineteenth century European innovations. Despite a minimal palette of color, daring streaks of russet and green, and touches of pink, baby blue and crimson pepper the blue-grey hills. While not the colors normally found on the palette of a Chinese landscape painter, the vivid tones enliven the canvas. This heterodox approach is perhaps a nodding reference to his close study of Modernist masters such as Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), who used color in a similar manner. Taking advantage of the effect of oil on canvas, Wu Guanzhong's brushwork is a fascinating study in this painting. The short horizontal streaks that compose the whitewashed facades of the Jiangnan buildings contrast with the organic build-up of strokes that come together to form the foreground rockery. The oil paint's texture reveals the motion of the brush, retaining the artist's spontaneity.

The unusually large canvas, twice the height of a majority of his works in oil from this period, mimics the proportions of a traditional Chinese hanging scroll. This tall format allows Wu Guanzhong to channel Fan Kuan (active 990-1030) and the great masters of early Northern Song dynasty monumental landscape painting. With a towering central peak flanked by less dramatic mountains, the improbably sharp drop-offs and steep inclines of the mountains heightens the vertical power of the composition. The frontal perspective unified by the mountain endows the scene with a serene and balanced mood. As the flowing lines suggesting the mountains' forms can be interpreted as calligraphic, the black contours of the houses' roofs are reminiscent of the character for people (人), reiterating that the structures at the foot of the high mountains are the domain of humanity. While maintaining the literati ideal of capturing the form-likeness of the scene through the use of abstract, calligraphically inspired brush work, Wu Guanzhong revives one of the most hallowed traditions in Chinese landscape painting.

The timeless spirit of Wu Guanzhong's 'A Fish Pool in the Mountain City' evinces the continuing relevance of the words of tenth century theoretician and painter Guo Xi (ca. 1020-1090) who wrote "In painting a landscape one attends first to the great mountain, which is called the host peak. Once the host is fixed, one may proceed with the secondary mountains, near and far, large and small. In its domination of the entire region, the host is like a ruler among his subjects, a master among servants."

By connecting with the oldest traditions, philosophy and aesthetics of the Chinese landscape painting genre Wu Guanzhong reinforces the unbreakable bond with the past that Chinese landscape painters have relied upon for centuries. While painted a mere twenty-five years ago, this painting stands importantly in the long history of Chinese painting. Relying simultaneously on China's natural scenery and its unrivaled artistic heritage, Wu Guanzhong creates a personal yet 'national' expression through the medium of oil on canvas.

〈山城鱼池〉(別名〈山村鱼池〉或〈山居 〉)展現吳冠中不僅在油畫方面造詣深厚,同時也深根於中國山水畫傳統。此作品在他藝術生涯後期於六十八歲完成,顯示自少年時期同時耕耘於中西繪畫兩方園圃的收獲,使他能水陸兼程,自由駕馭,讓油彩和水墨兩者相生相依。身為二十世紀第二代留學歐洲的中國藝術家成員,吳冠中在他赴巴黎學習三年後,同其他藝術家嘗試以油彩畫布探求國畫的革新。但有別於恩師林風眠(1900-1991),吳冠中在他大半職業生涯中為油彩和水墨都離不開的兩棲藝術家。

此畫創作於1987年,為吳冠中返回北京後的精選油畫作品之一。這些作品靈感來自那年先前到江南和印度飽遊飫看後的速寫構圖。明代書畫巨擘董其昌(1555-1636)的繪畫理論〈畫旨〉一文中,有句名言「讀萬卷書,行萬里路」,流頌至今 ; 吳冠中至晚年仍外出寫生,不僅重遊歐洲,還遍歷中國鄉間。如此拍品,他最為重要和最被人推崇的作品均來自天南地北的搜奇攬勝和尋幽探秘。





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