Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2021 Autumn Auctions
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Wu Dayu (1903–1988)
Flowers Rhymes(Painted in 1960s)

Oil on canvas

60 × 48 cm. 23 5/8 × 18 7/8 in.

1996, Wu Dayu 1903-1988, Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei, p. 26-27
2001, Exhibition of Wu Da-yu's Paintings, National Museum of History, Taipei, p. 80
2003, Shanghai Oil & Sculpture Academy – Wu Dayu, Shanghai Education Press, Shanghai, p. 47
2006, Wu Dayu, Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei, p. 42
2013, Works of Representatives of Shanghai Artists in the Century: Wu Dayu, Shanghai Shu Hua Publishing House, Shanghai, p. 69
2015, Works of Wu Dayu, People's Fine Arts Publishing House, Beijing, p. 91
9 Mar – 8 Apr 2001, Exhibitions of Wu Da-yu's Paintings, National Museum of History, Taipei

13 Apr 1997, Sotheby's Taipei Spring Auction, Lot 57
Acquired directly by present important private Asian collector from the above

Liberating Color and Form, Destination of the Heart and Mind
Flowers Rhymes - Wu Dayu Oil Painting Masterpiece from the 1960s

"We come from beauty, the truth lies ahead."
-- Wu Dayu

If we review the magnificent journey of modern Chinese art and the multifarious artistic masters who have regaled us with their talent over the past century, one individual stands head and shoulders above the rest as an artistic pioneer, a man whose immortal genius was only recognized by art history a generation after the fact, the founder of Chinese abstract painting Wu Dayu .

Outstanding Art Cultivated in Isolation
Second Largest Work by Wu Dayu in the 1960s

In 1922, 19-year-old Wu Dayu passed the entrance examination to the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Art (National School of Fine Arts) in Paris. His earlier works were clearly influenced by the Impressionist and Post Impressionist schools, which led Wu to pursue a style informed by mottled light and shade combined with solid formal beauty. That approach also laid the groundwork for his achievements with the motif of Abstract from the 1950s onwards. In 1928, Wu Dayu was recommended by principal Lin Fengmian as the first Western Painting Department head at Hangzhou National Academy of Art. Over the next 13 years, he taught and inspired the “three musketeers of Chinese Art” - Wu Guanzhong, Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh-Chun - who went on to study in France, become internationally renowned and rewrite the history of modern Chinese art. Although Wu taught a large number of outstanding artists, his life had its ups and downs and his creative career was hit hard by the tense climate during the War of Resistance against Japan and the Cultural Revolution. However, although Wu lived in near isolation from the 1950s, it was also during this period that that his works became increasingly imbued with a sense of resolute spiritual strength.

The auctioned work Flowers Rhymes was painted during Wu Dayu's creative peak in the 1960s and is the second largest painting he produced at this time. Research indicates that all Wu's earlier large oil paintings and most of the works he completed after liberation (1949) were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. As a result, oil paintings by the artist from before 1975 are extremely rare and valuable. For example, of the 159 oil paintings by Wu known to exist only 17 were painted in the 1960s and only two are larger than 50cm×50cm, of which Flowers Rhymes is one. As the second largest oil painting by Wu Dayu in the 1960s this is one of the rarest works to come onto the market in recent years.

Throughout his artistic career Wu painted only 15 works on a scale similar to that of Flowers Rhymes and the importance of the piece is evidenced by its inclusion in almost all complete work collections of the artist's paintings. Moreover, “flowers” were a classic motif for Wu Dayu and it is rare for such work to become available. Indeed, this painting was owned by a senior important Asian art collector for 25 years, though it did make an appearance at the Wu Dayu Painting Exhibition held at the National Museum of History in Taipei in 2001. Twenty years later, the painting is again going to be seen in public at the autumn auction, making this an opportunity not to be missed by art lovers everywhere.

Light and Color Rhymes:
Self Expression through Flowers, Union of Object and Artist in Light-Shade

Throughout his life Wu Dayu painted many works based on flower motifs and poured a kaleidoscope of color into his art while giving voice to his attitude on life. Flowers Rhymes is a vital testament to a key turning point in both the artist's life and his art. In the piece, Wu takes a vase flowing with vigor and conceals it among abstract brushstrokes. He deliberately uses chrome yellow and royal blue as his main tones, adding changes within the same color range, utilizing this simple and clean use of color to successfully blend object and self. Lin Fengmian once said of Wu Dayu's paintings “colors are the vehicle through which he expresses emotion.” In this work, the yellow hues used on the table, vase and between the leaves are akin to pulsating spots of light. It is almost as if one can feel the warmth of the sunlight making its way into the room from the rear. However, Wu does not take the simple route of freeze-framing a brightly colored light-shade moment, but rather chooses to showcase the independent trajectory of “light” as it moves over the surface of objects, highlighting the process of thought over time.

At the back of the painting and to the left we can see a window-shaped structure, with Wu using angular lines to create a sense of momentum; The light yellow brush strokes in different parts of the work create the flow of returning light, which establishes a light outline for the flowers in the vase that manages to be tightly interwoven with the surrounding environment, while also maintaining a sense of independence. This demonstrates “marks left by the external light on the surface of objects” at different points in time, which not only imbues the painting with overlapping time and space, but also exudes the appeal of permanent time. As a result, Flowers Rhymes showcases Wu Dayu's state of mind faced with the vicissitudes and unjustness of life, which speaks to the artist's indomitable spirit “no yearning for the past, no fear of the future.”

The main focus of Flowers Rhymes is not merely the bright colors and blooming flowers in the vase. The work is also an expression of the Wu's refusal to compromise or give up in the face of real world difficulties. The exuberant “image momentum” uses independent color blocks, simple lines and soaring brush force to showcase the universe as experienced and observed through nature, together with the life of color and form themselves. In this way, the work serves as a general testament to the spirit, character and academic literacy of the painter.

Conveying the Eternal Spring of the Mind:
Image Momentum, Cycle of Life between Color and Form

Using a traditional Chinese cultural context as his foundation Wu Dayu proposed the new aesthetic concept of “image momentum” made up of Eastern and Western elements. He combines the image to which such importance is attached in the West ——“image object” —— and uses the spirit of the image, a subjective idea emphasized in the East, to create something new. As a result, every brushstroke in Flowers Rhymes is extremely powerful and infused with poise and charm. Wu's iconic large blue brushstrokes are like churning waves in the ocean and when they collide with the green in the upper part of the painting there surges forth a gorgeous yellow aura, akin to the meeting of water and color in the work, demonstrating a vital life force.

This approach differs from the abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky who uses colors as a cacophony of musical notes. In contrast, the colors in Flowers Rhymes are simple and unified, using only brown, blue and yellow which spawn green-yellow, blue-green and other combinations. In this way, the colors are numerous and diverse but also come from the “same root source,” which provides viewers a sense of calm sensory resonance. Indeed, it is almost as if the deep power within the colors gradually expands, conveying the Taoist philosophy that “three begets all things.” Moreover, the parallel blue and green brush strokes around the painting intensify the momentum of this cycle so that the simple colors in the work constantly expand outwards, moving in an orderly manner around the flowers at the center of the work. As a result, the picturesque scene is like a space that constantly grows, giving voice to the cycle of life between color and form.

As with Paul Cézanne's Vase of Flowers, this piece also depicts a background of overlaying forms and colors, but Wu Dayu flattens the three dimensional space behind the vase, utilizing the unified colors to unite the two as one. This ensures that the textural expression of the object image itself is of secondary importance, thereby showcasing the unique formal beauty of Eastern abstraction. The ink stroke spirit of “calligraphy,” combined with the blending of rhythm and color, obfuscates the distinction between the “background” and “central motif” in Flowers Rhymes and this creates a situation where the blue and green brush strokes that revolve around the flowers appear as if engaged in their own energy cycle in time and space, effervescently leading to the next point in the life journey of the flowers.

Price estimate:
HKD: 9,000,000 - 15,000,000
USD: 1,156,200 - 1,927,000

Auction Result:
HKD: 10,680,000



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