Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wu Guanzhong, Leading Chinese Painter, Dies at 90



Wu Guanzhong, whose fusion of Western modernism and traditional Chinese painting made him one of China’s most forward-looking and admired artists, died on Friday in Beijing. He was 90.

His death was confirmed by Fong Yuk Yan, his longtime dealer in Hong Kong.

In 1950, Mr. Wu returned to China after three years of study in Paris, where he came under the spell of van Gogh, Utrillo and Modigliani and enthusiastically embraced modernism’s license to experiment. Trained in traditional Chinese ink and brush painting, as well as Western-style oil painting, he went on to develop an artistic hybrid style expressed in landscape views captured on painting trips all over China and beyond.

“I felt that I was pursuing something: the people’s feelings, the earth’s rhythms, a traditional style and the formal principles of modern Western art,” he wrote in a 1982 essay.

Mr. Wu’s education and career were constantly disrupted by war and political turmoil. In the early 1950s his figure paintings, some of them nudes, were attacked when Socialist Realism became the official style of the Communist government. He turned to landscape, a safer subject.

During the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Wu, along with his colleagues and students at the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts in Beijing, was sent to do hard labor in a remote village in Hebei Province, in the northeast. He was forbidden to paint for three years.

In 1972, along with other notable artists, he was summoned back from internal exile by Premier Zhou Enlai and commissioned to paint a large mural at the Beijing Hotel.

He returned to ink and brush painting, which he had studied under Pan Tianshou, in part because of the space constraints of his apartment in Beijing. In 1978 he had his first one-man show, which traveled throughout China. In 1992 the British Museum organized an exhibition of his work, “Wu Guanzhong: A 20th-Century Chinese Painter.”

Mr. Wu won recognition as one of China’s most original artists and became a darling of Asian and Western collectors. In 2009 his works fetched nearly $40 million at auction. This month his 1974 oil painting “Panoramic View of the Yangtze River” sold for $8.4 million at an auction in Beijing.

“He was an inspiration for many Chinese artists even to this day and one of the most important forces in modern Chinese art,” Tan Ping, the vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, told The Associated Press.

Wu Guanzhong (pronounced gwan-ZHUNG) was born on Aug. 29, 1919, in Yixing, in Jiangsu Province. His father was a village schoolteacher. While studying electrical engineering at Zhejiang University, he attended an art exhibition at Hangzhou Academy and, against the wishes of his family, decided to become an artist.

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  From the New York Times - Art and Design

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