The profound beauty and stillness of nature guided Wu Guanzhong through his life and art practice. He spent his early life an as artist travelling around Jiangnan (a large area south of the Yangtze river that includes Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing), known for its picturesque gardens, rivers and villages.
"Brush and ink are only servants of thoughts and emotion. They should follow your emotion and change with the emotion."
Water Alley in Jiangnan, 1991 © Wu Guanzhong
Wu remained both an oil and ink painter throughout his life, and was influenced by Chinese calligraphy and Eastern aesthetics. He travelled far and wide to seek inspiration for his art, from remote villages to great lakes to snowy mountaintops. He noticed little details in the scenery he saw and often incorporated traditional Chinese motifs like wisteria, pine, lotus and tree roots into his artworks.
Nature gave him a sense of energy, and the changing seasons a sense of renewal.
"Time changes space: snowy mountains, windstorms, tall trees, and wildflowers are moved by time, creating extraordinary scenes within the illusions I perceive."
Paul Cézanne, Mont Saint-Victoire, c.1887 © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Galery, London
Like many Chinese artists of the 1900s, Wu studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. There, he encountered Fauvist and Post-Impressionist art by Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh. He was captivated by their vibrant colors and distinct forms.
Springs and Autumns in the Lotus Pond, 2003 © Wu Guanzhong. Collection of National Gallery Singapore
When Wu returned to China after the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, he continued to travel around his motherland and produced his most iconic works during this period. He was one of the few artists that was able to master the combination of Western and Eastern aesthetics in an elegant and refined manner.