Two highly important Chinese paintings spotted on a routine valuation are set to sell for more than £1,000,000 when they go under the auctioneers hammer next month.
The paintings are by Wu Guanzhong (1919-2010), who is regarded as the greatest Chinese artist of the 20th century. The paintings were purchased by the owner whilst living in Hong Kong, before prices for works by the artist hit stratospheric levels. In 2012 a large oil painting by Wu Guanzhong sold at auction in China for more than £20,000,000.
Guy Schwinge of Duke’s came across the paintings on a routine valuation after a chance meeting with the owner. He commented: “Wu Guanzhong’s importance to the development of Chinese art in the 20th century cannot be overstated. His works bridge the gap between the past and the present and they perfectly articulate the fusion of Chinese and Western Art.” Wu Guanzhong’s importance as an artist is further underlined by the fact his works are represented in major museums and art galleries worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum in London.
Wu’s international reputation was cemented by a pioneering exhibition at the British Museum in 1992, entitled “Wu Guanzhong – A 20th-Century Chinese Painter”. The paintings included in the exhibition exemplified his ability to fuse the rich and ancient tradition of Chinese painting in ink and colour with the most vigorous expression of modern Western Art. The paintings coming up for auction at Duke’s are important within the artist’s oeuvre and demonstrate Wu’s ability to combine adventurous, technical and stylistic innovations with the time-honoured skills of the calligrapher’s brush.
‘White Birches on Mount Chang Bai (Zhangbai)’ is a hanging scroll painting in ink and colour on paper, bearing two seals of the artist indicating that it was painted in the 1980’s. It measures 136cm x 67½cm and Duke??s are estimating that it will sell for up to £1,000,000. The painting is very similar to a painting in the British Museum Exhibition staged in 1992, entitled “White Birch 1986”. The artist describes this work:
“The white birch is tall and slender, plain white, and on the trunk there are often marks which look like eyes. These eyes all give the impression of peeping quietly at people. They are like the eyes of a fair woman, whose tender gaze is reluctant to let you go. The white birch trees grow in the cold regions. I have painted several pictures of them, and once wrote the lines: “When the weather is cold, the ground is frozen and no flowers are in bloom, in front of Changbai Mountain (in Manchuria) I look at the white birch trees”.
The second painting to be sold by Duke’s is of a water village in the Jiangnan region. Describing a comparable painting Wu stated “The neighbourhood in the small market town of Luzhi, near Suzhou is compact. In front, behind, to the left and right, the buildings are squeezed together, the eaves almost touch, the doors and windows are all over the place…..”. The artist goes on “the inlaying of colour is like jewellery in the painting, it is the people’s clothes”; this perfectly describes the painting on offer at Duke’s, which could easily trounce it’s pre-sale estimate of £300,000-£600,000. Both paintings will be sold at Duke’s of Dorchester on the 18th May, when they are expected to set a record for 20th century Chinese paintings sold in the United Kingdom.