Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2018 Spring Auctions
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

WU DAYU (1903-1988)
Untitled II-309(Painted approximately in 1970s-1980s)

Crayon on paper

14.8×10 cm. 5 7/8×3 7/8 in

Signed in Chinese with one artist’s seal on bottom left

1999, Lin Fengmian 100 Years Retrospective, Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei, p.19
Private Collection, Asia

dialogue with the masters
Leaders of the Zeitgeist
At the beginning of the 20th Century, China found itself at the brink of a period of unprecedented change. Whether it be in terms of politics, the economy, or art, people at the time sought innovation and growth. Many artists left China to study abroad, and during that period, these artists were confronted by cultures and environments that drastically differed from those of their home countries. This therefore provided them with much creative inspiration, encouraging them to find ways of fusing Western and Eastern art. In other words, in order to carve out a niche in the Western art world, Chinese artists of the time began to consider how to conserve the essence of their traditional culture in their works at the same time as incorporating modern notions and Western forms of media.
Through a painstaking process of trial and error, these artists were able to make important breakthroughs that earned them their rightful places among the heavyweights of the global art scene. For this springtime auction, we have specially planned “Dialogue with the Masters ”for our main theme, whereby we have selected the works of seven outstanding Chinese artists, including Lin Feng-mien, Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun, and Yan Wenliang , all of whom studied in France; Ding Yanyong and Guan Liang, who studied in Japan; and Yun Gee, who studied in the United States. Through an in-depth appreciation of their works, we can gain profound insight into the zeitgeist of that time, i.e. the collision and fusion of Western and Eastern culture; the powerful influence of these works; and the immense contributions that their creators made to the development of modern Chinese art.
We have furthermore included the works of the 19th century master of French realism, Gustave Courbet, who exerted an immense influence on the development of realism within China, and we are also showing the most iconic works of renowned artist Bernard Buffet, who was active in Paris at the same time as the aforementioned seven artists. We sincerely hope that these works will serve as a point of reference for collectors so that they may better and more clearly understand how modern Chinese artists integrated Western aesthetics into their works.
The Romantic Charm of Great Art Concealed
Mr. Guan Liang’s works look like Western painting but are imbued with the spirit of Chinese painting. He uses the simple, lively style and well honed skills of Western painting to express the tranquility, unaffected nature, elegance and unconventional grace that underpins the romantic charm of Chinese painting, to create a new type of progressive painting belonging to a specific era, that carries forward the spirit of traditional Chinese art.
- Guo Moruo
A Pioneer in Chinese Oil Painting
Prior to Guan Liang, Chinese oil painting can be broadly divided into “copying the West” and “combining Chinese and Western styles.” In contrast, Guan introduced “oil painting with Chinese images, ” developing an innovative approach that facilitated the “nationalization of oil painting.” Throughout his life Guan adhered to the artistic maxim of “reflecting and transcending the times.” In other words, he was not satisfied with merely repeating the forms of modern Western painting, but at the same time he did not feel constrained by the need to defend spirit of Chinese painting and calligraphy. Instead, he created a unique style that despite using this Western medium was deeply imbued with Chinese characteristics. If we review paintings by Guan Liang from more than half a century ago, then what is most striking is the fact that his mature and unencumbered technique is every bit as proficient as that of Western painters, while also being replete with national character of the times. They also tore down the walls of aesthetic appreciation between East and West and on seeing such works one cannot but be excited, gasping in admiration at the vision and outstanding artistic appeal of this master painter.
In 1917, seventeen-year-old Guan Liang studied painting in Japan with Fujishima Takeji and Nakamura Fusetsu, students of Kuroda Seiki, one of the founders of the Japanese Impressionist School. As a result, as Guan received strict training in Western painting, he was also deeply influenced by impressionist style, from which he developed his own artistic path. After returning to China, Guan taught at Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, where he met ink artists Huang Binghong, Wu Changshuo, Pan Tianshou, from who he learned much about traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy. As a result of these interactions, Guan Liang explored the subtle relationship between the appeal of Western expressionist painting and Eastern freehand brushwork aesthetics, an expressive method he transformed into the sinification of oil painting. At the same time, Guan also integrated the every day plots of Chinese opera with which he fell in love as a child into vivid presentations in his paintings, creating some of the most recognizable character images in the Chinese art world of the 20th century.
First Appearance with Clear Provenance
Fewer than 400 oil paintings by Guan Liang are known to exist. The two works to be auctions, Landscape and Opera Figures, are two of the best examples of the artist’s focus on natural scenery and opera. Of these, Landscape comes from the collection of renowned Guangzhou doctor Ms. Yin Xiulian, who first met Guan Liang in Japan and was so impressed with his artistic talent that she collected five works by the artist. Prior to the sale of this piece, Ms Yin sold the other paintings over the past few years and having received more than HK$3 million, it is clear there is much demand for work by Guan Liang.
The provenance of the second work, Opera Figures, is also well documented, having been part of the collection of a senior art collector for decades, the painting is on the market for the first time and as a result the current spring auction in Hong Kong brings together two rare oil paintings by Guan Liang, offering art lovers an exquisite artistic feast to regale their senses.
Landscape: Unadorned Sincerity, Transcendent Tranquility
In Landscape, Guan Liang adopts the classical “S” shaped composition for landscape oil paintings, creating a bold and unconstrained sense of space. The unbroken mountain range reaches into the distance under the blue sky and white clouds, with lush green trees on either side of the road as a farmer and his child planting seeds in a golden-yellow field, creating a combination of reality and virtuality in the foreground, mid-ground and background of the work. Adept deep brown lines depict the mountains and terrain, the lively and simple flat brushstrokes working in conjunction with the combination of celadon, ochre, lemon yellow and dark green, in a way that enables the simple expressive method to simplify the huge space, complex color interactions and structure, to showcase a transcendent agrarian scene. Guan Liang liked to paint the figures in his landscapes as small and stylistically simple, with no need for formal detail as a way of elevating a scene.
The artistic thinking that informs the outline of the high mountains in this work is the same as that in the artist’s classic painting Shi-Men, though he transforms the richly colorful changes in light and shade of the rich impressionist school into monochrome flat brushstrokes of different depths. In so doing Guan also weakens the three-dimensional space of objects and his single line flat strokes display the stylistic influence of Impressionist master Paul Gauguin from the artist’s early days as a student in Japan. Gauguin used monochrome flat colors and different blocks of color, connected by solid black lines to ensure the pure flatness of the depiction. However, this was not a self developed breakthrough in Western technique as Gauguin was very much influenced by Japan’s Ukiyo-e painting style. For example, he studied the decorative flat compositional skills of Katsushika Hokusai and transferred them to the medium of oil painting, creating a painting style based on the simple and solemn use of color that differed markedly from that of other impressionist masters. As such, it is hardly surprising that Guan Liang was drawn to Gauguin above other impressionist masters, as it was he more than any other who captured the trend of the times to combine East-West aesthetics. This enabled Guan to take the artistic spirit of Chinese freehand expression and refine it as part of his humble work. Spiritually, this imbued the objects in his paintings with a sense of sincerity, while the calmness and tranquility of the scenes is eternal, as with the “tireless planting” of Asian peoples.
Opera Figures: Spiritual Connection, beyond Expression
Guan Liang once said being born lucky had allowed him to discover “Chinese opera” which provided him with subject material to paint with self-spiritual connection. From a very young age he loved watching such performances and in order to experience such beauty first hand even studied opera. In this way, Guan came to appreciate that in traditional opera the height of artistic expression was to present Chinese spirit and character in a way that “can only be sensed, not conveyed in words.” Moreover, this also coincided with the artist’s constant pursuit of a creative plane where “ideas float free of the brush, ” and with this realization he was even more inclined to include opera figures in his paintings.
Opera Figures depicts a scene from chapter 39 of The Complete Story of Yue Fei, in which Southern Song Dynasty General Gao Chong storms the Jin enemy to relieve the encircled forces of Yue Fei, creating the classic operatic battle scene in which eleven pulley blocks are overturned. In the right of the painting stands Gao Chong dressed in a blue coat of armor, with a yellow belt round his waist, a blue headdress and thick-soled boots, with four battle flags dancing heroically in the wind. Gao leans back and is slightly crouched, as he attacks an enemy solider on an pulley block to his right with a long spear, with an expression that is at once dignified and courageous, righteous and awe-inspiring. With the artist’s fine strokes, the gritted teeth and firmly closed mouth take shape while heavier strokes are used to depict Gao’s large round eyes and his vivid righteous expression. Guan takes what is in an operatic setting an extremely complex figure outline and costume and simplifies it in his painting, using precise and proficient simple strokes to imbue the scene with a more powerful aesthetic than on stage.
The simple distorted shapes of opera figures in the works of Guan Liang are the product of considered approach that involves “replacing complexity with simplicity.” When painting opera figures the most important thing for the artist is to clarify the relationship between the plot, scene and character depicted, as well as the character and features of each. To that end, Guan developed the habit of drawing little drafts in the sketchbook he carried while watching performances. Those sketches were very precise and completely different to the more simplified images on the canvas. Guan once said: “distorted shapes serve the purpose of expressing the characteristics of objects.” He takes great care to convey the spirit and bearing of the figures in his paintings, breaking with the need for better expression, preferring instead to use them as artistic vehicles for the expression of national spirit, as he showcases how “art transcends the life from which it originates.”

Price estimate:
HKD: 130, 000 - 180, 000
USD: 16, 700 - 23, 100

Auction Result:
HKD: 153,400



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