Movement: Abstract Expressionism, Formalism, Chinese Modernist
Wu Guanzhong's Famous Artworks
“Scenery of Guilin,” 1973
“Ancient Tree by the River,” 1977
“Mountain and Stream,” 1977
“A Banana Garden Of Xishuangbana,” 1978
“Mountains High and Streams Eternal,” 1986
“The Hometown of Shakespeare,” 1992
‘Hong Kong,” 1997
“Parrot Haven,” 1998
“Fragrant red Leaves,” 2001
“Dress Up,” 2003
Wu Guanzhong was a Chinese painter, known for his blending of Western and Asian aesthetics and techniques. He worked as an educator and essayist as well. Wu Guanzhong's paintings
have received much appreciation around the world.
Wu Guanzhong's Early Life
Wu was born into a peasant family. His father was the headmaster at the local school. His family expected him to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher. However, Wu had other ambitions and joined a technical school instead to become an electrical engineer. At around the same time, he met another student, Chu Teh Chun, who introduced him to the world of art. This proved to be the aspiring engineer’s undoing. He left the engineering school, and joined the China
Academy of Art in Hangzhou in 1936, convinced that art was his first love, and graduated from it in 1942.
Wu Guanzhong's Training as an Artist
Wu trained under Pan Tianshou and Lin Fengmian. He studied both Occidental as well as traditional
Chinese art, developing a taste and style that mixed both these disparate schools. He completed his studies in 1942. At the time, World War II was raging and jobs were not easy to come by. He eventually began teaching at the Chongqing University as a drawing teacher.
Wu had studied the French language for a while, and when the opportunity arose, applied for one of two places available to study abroad. He was picked to study at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He arrived there in 1946 and immediately began touring the museums in the city. Wu had always been fascinated by Western art and was especially influenced by the Post-Impressionists like Van Gogh. During his time in Paris, he gained a firm grasp of Formalism, a style he incorporated into his work at a fundamental level.
Wu Guanzhong's Return to China
Wu returned to China in 1950 to a country that had just been taken over by the People’s Republic Government. Wu was enthusiastic about teaching all the new modern experiences he had soaked up in Paris. Having trained in both Western and Chinese styles, he had begun combining the two in his own style. However, this sense of adventure was not looked upon kindly by his colleagues and contemporaries. He was expelled from his post at the Central Academy of Art in Beijing and transferred to the Tsinghua University also in Beijing.
Thereafter, Wu traveled the country widely and soon began taking an interest in landscape painting. He was a keen professor and popular with his students. He painted in classical Chinese style, the subjects being houses, birds, pandas, storks, woods, and paper kites flying in the sky, among others. He also felt that oil painting was a way to breathe new life into traditional Chinese art.
Wu Guanzhong and The Cultural Revolution
Along with many other intellectuals and artists, Wu suffered badly and was harassed during the Cultural Revolution. He knew from the outset that his work and ideas would not be looked upon kindly by Mao Zedong’s government. Some of his works were destroyed, and he was forbidden from teaching and painting. Wu was sent to work in the fields by the government in 1970 and spent the next three years doing hard labor. He was occasionally allowed to paint on holidays, but for the most part, life was drudgery. He had heard of the violence artists had faced, and so destroyed many of his own works, especially the nudes, instead of having to witness their destruction at the hands of others.
Wu Guanzhong's Return to Beijing
Wu was given a break from hard labor in 1972. He began receiving commissions but changed his style to match the rest of his contemporaries. The “Scenery of Guilin,” 1973, is an example from this time. He began painting in the traditional Chinese style to keep the authorities happy. It was only after Mao’s death in 1976 that he could go back to painting the way he wanted.
He started painting in the Formalist style that he was so fond of. He was equally at ease in both the Western and Eastern art worlds. He suddenly became an internationally successful artist. He mounted his first one-man show in 1979. He was awarded the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1991 by the French government.
Wu Guanzhong's Death and Legacy
Aged 90, Wu Guanzhong died on June 25, 2010, in Beijing. He was survived by his wife, Zhu Biqin and their three children — two sons and a daughter.
Wu left behind a modernist legacy: a mix and match of Western and Chinese techniques and styles that he was able to teach for a while. He could successfully change his style as per requirement, using ink, watercolor or oils. A prolific painter, he worked right up to his death, till the verge of exhaustion, looking for pure form and color, and is considered by many as one of the founders of modern Chinese art. You can buy Wu Guanzhong's artworks online
Wu Guanzhong's Major Exhibitions
Huntington Archive of Buddhist and Asian Art, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, US
British Museum, London
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
Hong Kong Art Museum, Hong Kong
“Revolutionary Ink: The Paintings of Wu Guanzhong” by Melissa Chiu
“Shore To Shore: Wu Guanzhong Retrospective” by Jia Fangzhou