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Lotus Flowers (I)
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About the object

If you try to tame me\nI will not obey\nI'd rather leave you alone\nIf you try to change me\nI must break away\nTo be what I am on my own\n\nI'm freezing, I'm burning\nI live without compromise\nI'm growing, I'm learning\nI'm ready to pay the price\nI know it's not easy to be free\nBut I belong to me Excerpt from I Belong to Me,\nFrom the musical Elisabeth\n\nThroughout his life, Wu Guanzhong was true to himself. The many adversities that he experienced in his earlier years never dulled his passion for art or his pride and ambition. He lived by the values valorised in the famous opera Elisabeth. In 1972, after the darkest moments of the Cultural Revolution had passed, a six-year ban on Wu Guanzhongs painting activities was lifted, and he returned from Li Villege in the Hebei countryside to Beijing to reunite with his family. Although the Cultural Revolution would last until 1976, this change of fortune instilled optimism in the artist, who experienced an outpouring of creative energy and entered a period of high productivity and achievement in the 1970s. Steering clear of ideological quagmires, Wu Guanzhong focused his energies on landscape paintings, traveling broadly within and outside China to experience and capture different sceneries. This endeavour, which would last four decades, began in Beijing, and his works about Beijing are thus especially significant. Although Wu ostensibly painted landscapes, his true subject was his own life story. Art was his religion. He met every challenge in life by living to the fullest and living by the highest values. This year being the centennial of Wu Guanzhongs birth, Sothebys is honoured to present his 1970 painting Lotus Flowers (I) (Lot 1008) as the highlight of the autumn night auction. Of a grander scale than virtually all of Wus other works from this period, Lotus Flowers (I) is unsurpassed in the sophistication of its pictorial language and autobiographical symbolism. It is one of Wu Guanzhongs utmost masterpieces.\nA Masterpiece from Difficult Times\nDue to the paucity of materials, during the Cultural Revolution Wu Guanzhong painted mostly on wood boards refashioned from small blackboards and reserved canvas for his finest works. According to the Catalogue Raisonne of Wu Guanzhong and public auction records, he produced only about 30 paintings on canvas during the Cultural Revolution. Among these, the only ones exceeding one meter were almost all commissioned by museums or the national government. Lotus Flowers (I), measuring 120.5 cm by 90.5 cm, is one of the very few large-scale oil paintings that Wu painted for himself. This suggests the passion and inspiration that motivated the work, as well as its significance as a milestone in Wus life and artistic career. Lotus Flowers (I) depicts a mid-summer scene of lotuses in full vitality. A single, radiantly blooming flower stands proudly in the middle of the composition, revealing its beautiful petals and fecund stamen. The composition is balanced. It conveys a tranquil mood, inviting a meditative visual engagement. The lotus leaves are full of vitality and direct our imagination beyond the scene. Wus brushwork is exuberant and richly layered. Balanced between expressionism and the tactility of life sketches, the flowers are pictured from a upwards perspective, whereas the pond is pictured from a downwards perspective. This makes the flowers and leaves appear longer and more tensile than in real life. In the details, Wu ingeniously flips the brush around and carves fast-paced lines with the handle, showing his virtuosic mastery of the oil medium.\nBeauty and drunkenness in the lotus pond\nWu Guanzhong rarely painted flowers in vases indoors, but preferred to paint flowers still planted in earth. His flower paintings are thus different from the classical western still life. He expressed his own joy of life through the direct experience of vital nature. After his 1972 return to Beijing, Wu often painted flowers in the Purple Bamboo Garden in Beijings Haidian District and produced a series of lotus paintings there. Constructed in 1953, the Purple Bamboo Garden was rich in vegetation and had a large lotus pond that recalled Hangzhous West Lake and Monets garden. Hangzhou and France were both places very dear to Wu Guanzhongs heart. We may presume that painting lotuses recalled his precious and bittersweet memories. At the same time, the lotus is a traditional Chinese symbol for moral uprightness. As Wu himself explained explicitly, the lotus was an elegant flower but with a fierce and unyielding character and stood proud amongst all flowers in a field of red evoking an untrammelled drunkenness. These descriptions of the lotus drew from tradition but were also idiosyncratic, and may be more properly considered reflect the artists self-image. Thus, his true intention in painting Lotus Flowers (I) was not to render a beautiful scene, but to express himself through itit was an oblique self-portrait.\nAn abundance of spiritual energy\nOther pieces of evidence lend credence to the notion that Wu Guanzhong painted Lotus Flowers (I) as a self-portrait. From 1973 onwards, he produced multiple lotus paintings in Purple Bamboo Garden. The first two were small works painted respectively in watercolor and gouache, and appear to have been drafts. Another painting titled Lotus Flowers (60.8 x 50.2 cm) from the same year depicts a bud in the middle of a dense growth of lotuses, suggesting Wus hope that he would survive and transcend the troubling times. This painting was sold at the special night auction entitled Nature Through the Eyes of Wu Guanzhong held in April 2015 at Sothebys Hong Kong for the high price of HKD 34,360,000 after intense bidding by over a dozen bidders. After the 1973 Lotus Flowers, Wu Guanzhong accepted a government assignment to gather sketches and materials with Yuan Yuanfu, Zhu Danian, and Huang Yongyu along the Yangzi River in preparation for the mural A Thousand Miles of the Yangzi River. Upon his return to Beijing in the following year, he produced the 1974 Lotus Flowers (I) presently on offer.\nAlthough the 1973 and 1974 paintings are similar in composition, upon close inspection the latter is clearly more assured. The lotuses in the earlier painting are alive but not yet blooming, and the leaves behind them are interlocked, as if shielding them, hinting at a sense of insecurity that Wu felt despite his optimism. By contrast, the 1974 Lotus Flowers (I) is 3.5 times the size of the earlier painting. Here the flowers are more exuberant, with one standing tall and blooming emphatically against the wind. The leaves no longer seem protective but instead support the flowers and emphasize their purity and elegance. It appears that the year-long, artistically fruitful Yangzi expedition put Wu Guanzhong in a much more confident state of mind. The 1974 work is suffused with innumerable buds awaiting their turns to bloom. If the central lotus is Wu Guanzhongs self-portrait, then the buds surrounding it must represent his many talented contemporaries waiting to realise their potential. Not only concerned with changes in his personal fortunes, Wu Guanzhong expressed a broader optimism for his country and times.\n \nSigned and dated 74 in Chinese; signed, dated 1974 and titled in Chinese on the reverse 
HK
HK
HK

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Wu Guanzhong

condition

The painting surface has recently been cleaned, and the work is overall in very good and its original condition. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

dimensions

120.5 by 90.5 cm; 47 ½ by 35 ⅝ in. 

literature

Wang He, ed., Ten Chinese Oil Painters - Wu Guanzhong, World Affairs Press, Beijing, 2004, p. 13 Shui Tianzhong & Wang Hua, ed., The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong Vol. II, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Changsha, 2007, p. 236 Wu Keyu, ed., World Famous Artist: Wu Guanzhong, Hebei Education Publishing House, Shijiazhuang, 2010, p. 58

provenance

Important Private Asian Collection

signedDate

Signed and dated 74 in Chinese; signed, dated 1974 and titled in Chinese on the reverse 

artist_range_end

2010

artist_range_start

1919

consignmentDesignation

Property from an important private asian collection

creator_nationality_dates

1919 - 2010


*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.


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