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  • Mind Speaks before the Brush--Depicting Image from the Artist’s Heart


    Looking back at his life as an artist, Wu Guanzhong enrolled in the Hangzhou National College of Art in the 1930s and 1940s to receive a thorough and systematic education of traditional Chinese painting under the supervision of Pan Tianshou. During the same period, he was also profoundly influenced by the Western painting concepts of Lin Fengmian and Wu Dayu, and therefore was inspired to receive training in Western modernist painting in France. After his return to China, he started the initial exploration of blending Chinese and Western art during the 1950s and 1960s. This was a period when Wu Guanzhong made a comprehensive experiment on the ‘formal language’ of the paintings, and explored a harmonious unity between the ‘formal beauty’ of the West and the ‘contextual beauty’ of the East. Having spent time in the countryside and continuously sketching different parts of the country in the 1970s and 80s, the artist’s creations covered the most varied and abundant themes at this time. It also became a mature stage for the artist's fusion of East and West in the ‘nationalisation of oil painting’. This also led to his exploration of ink paintings in the mid-1980s, which began his artistic path of 'complementing and sharing the use of ink painting and oil painting in order to achieve the purpose of pursuing beauty'. In the 1990s, as his mastery of ink painting became more mature, his artistic language made a new breakthrough and ushered in the pinnacle of his artistic creation.

    By this time, Wu Guanzhong had returned to a state where oil painting was the mainstay that was supported and supplemented by ink and wash. The nature being depicted was not nature existing in front of the eyes of the artist, but rather the spiritual nature in his experience and mind. His painterly language at this time became more concise and pure, with a clearer realm. The present work is the epitome of Wu's exploration of nationalisationof oil painting. Relying on the experience and perception of nature for most of his life, Wu Guanzhong uses the image from his heart to paint. More emotional release is achieved through the use of strong colours, reaching the height of ‘exploring all the wondrous peaks to make a draft’ described by Shi Tao in terms of the ideals of painting. Making this art piece the best expression of the status of ‘a wonderful enlightenment brought by a reverie of the mind’.



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    Gustav Klimt, Mountain Slope at Unterach, 1916


    Bold and Unstrained Brushwork with Exuberant Colors


    Created in 1991, Guilin acts on the principle of ‘expressing emotions through the painting of landscape’ proposed by Wu Guanzhong, integrating both a figurative and abstract visual language. Allowing the brush to be driven by real thoughts, he has abandoned the conventional constraints of concrete objects in his form, but he has not gone completely into abstraction, as if fuelled by distant image filled with emotional memory. The lightness of the lines and the brightness of the colours in Guilin are reflected in the diagonal composition of the painting, which uses delicate and flexible geometric blocks to create a rhythmic environment. The work is composed from a wide overhead perspective, allowing the viewer to take in more of the scene. Mixing the magnificent colours of Western oil painting with the flexible aura of traditional ink and wash in an unbridled manner, the houses are depicted innovatively in magnificent stone green colours and are in sharp contrast to the indigo peaks of Guilin. The colour of the sky and the Lijiang River are painted in a lighter shade of greyish white to leave a blank space in the painting, so that the work is not overwhelmed by the density of the scenery and to create a unique aesthetic beauty of ‘realism from a distance and abstraction from a closer view’. The cheerful and light visual tone of Guilin comes from Wu's long years of observation and understanding of nature itself, enabling the artist to master the overall modelling functions of point, line and surface through the abstract refinement of objects. This allows the scene to progress from close to far, moving freely between figurative and abstract expressions. Further, the interplay of colour blocks presents the poetic beauty of the world and echoes the traditional Eastern worldview of the reciprocity of reality and emptiness.


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    Wang Shen, Landscape Scroll, Northern Song (detail)
    Collection of the Shanghai Museum


    Brush Moves with the Heart, Forms His Own Unique School of Art


    As the founder of modern Chinese painting, Wu Guanzhong created a new contemporary style in the context of traditional Chinese painting in the spirit of his teacher Lin Fengmian’s ‘Create Art of the Age by Reconciling Eastern and Western Art’. He was aware that the success of Chinese painting was due in part to the refinement of ink and brush techniques, the high degree of colour generalisation, and the shaping of the relationship between abstract and reality. The achievement of a symbiosis of ‘the brush follows the heart’ and ‘the penetration of the abstract by leaving blank space’ naturally became the basis of Wu Guanzhong’s creative principle. After returning from France, he combined the visual language of Maurice Utrillo and Raoul Dufy with the spatial sense of Chinese painting, introducing traditional Chinese ink and brush into the visual concept of Western modern painting, and pursuing the unity of formal and contextual beauty of the picture in the fusion of Chinese and Western art. With his lyrical and light-hearted brushstrokes, he combines the freedom of movement between the two painting styles of Chinese and Western. In the fusion of aesthetic languages, he embodies the Chinese charm and the spirit of Chinese artists. His works not only enrich the depth of the oil painting as a medium in the West, but also maintain the visual tension of the modernist painting language, forming his unique painting style. Additionally, his unique painting style has brought the subject of Chinese landscape painting that enjoys a long history from tradition to modernity in China, reaching an unprecedented height from a new perspective.



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    Wu Guanzhong, A Valley of Colours, 1993,
    Poly Auction Hong Kong, 3 April 2017, Sold for HK$28,320,000


    Forgetting the Self and the Material, Break Away from the Form and Rationality


    The 1990s were a time of great success for Wu Guanzhong, both in terms of his creative work and his personal achievements, as the artist not only held solo exhibitions around the world, but he also won many honours. He was the first artist from the East to hold a solo exhibition at the British Museum, and the first living artist to have an exhibition organised by the Ministry of Culture at the National Art Museum of China. Moreover, the first Chinese artist to be awarded both the title of Corresponding Member of the Academy of Arts and Academe de France and the highest honour of the French Ministry of Culture. At this time, Wu Guanzhong developed a broader vision and a more liberal attitude towards his art creation, conveying through his works a transcendent state of oblivion, just as described in Zhuangzi: The Great Teacher, ‘Forgetting one’s body, abandoning one’s intelligence, freeing oneself from the bondage of form and intelligence, and becoming one with the ultimate truth, is called sitting oblivion’ and Guilin was created in this state of mind. Within the framework of his philosophy of ‘learning from the outside and getting to the essence’, Wu Guanzhong uses the stacking technique of oil painting to depict the scaled villages, leaving the unique warmth of ink and wash to the unique landscape of Guilin. The rich colours and ethereal atmosphere make Guilin bright and vibrant, filled with the artist’s deep affection for the beautiful river and mountains of this land, conveying a wonderful feeling of life.



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    Wu Guanzhong, Scenery of Guilin, 1973,
    Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5 October 2020, Sold for HKD 43,430,000



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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      Poly Auction, Hong Kong, 2 October 2017, lot 179
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Beijing, National Agriculture Exhibition Centre, The Kite String Will Not Be Broken - Wu Guanzhong’s Classical Artworks, 15 - 18 September 2011

    • Literature

      The Oriental Press, ed., Wu Guanzhong's Personal Selection of Paintings, Beijing, 1992, p. 82 (illustrated)
      Geijutsu Shinbunsha, An Album of Wu Guanzhong - In Search of New Ways, Tokyo, 1992, p. 38 (illustrated)
      L'Atelier Productions Pte. Ltd., ed., Wu Guanzhong - A Selection of 128 Fine Works, Singapore, 1996, p. 49 (illustrated)
      Guangxi Fine Arts Publishing House., ed., About Wu Guanzhong (Selection of Articles about Wu Guanzhong), Nanning, 1999, p. 157 (illustrated)
      People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, ed., Wu Guanzhong Connoisseurs Choice I, Beijing, 2003, p. 162 (illustrated)
      Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, ed., The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong Vol. III, Changsha, 2007, p. 317 (illustrated)

Property from a Distinguished Private Asian Collection

✱ Ж29


signed and dated '91 Tu [in Chinese]' lower right
oil on canvas mounted on board
44 x 53 cm. (17 3/8 x 20 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1991.

Full Cataloguing

HK$15,000,000 - 25,000,000 

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Charlotte Raybaud
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+852 2318 2026
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021