Wu Guan Zhong (吳冠中, 1919–2010) is my favourite artist. His art is the sublime embodiment of east meets west.
Wu is considered to be one of the greatest contemporary Chinese painters of all-time. Born in Jiangsu, China in 1919, he studied engineering but found his calling and enrolled in art school where he tutored under the great master of Chinese painting, Lin Fengmian. He then left to study art in France and returned to China in 1950. His works were condemned during the Cultural Revolution but he continued to paint and his works came to be celebrated internationally.
Actually, Wu studied at the National Arts Academy of Hangzhou, and just like my art teacher Master Lai, studied under Pan Tianshou (潘天壽, 1897-1971) and Lin Fengmian (林風眠, 1900-1991). As a matter of fact, Wu Guan Zhong graduated years after my teacher.
In 1947 Wu travelled to Paris to study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts on a government scholarship. He admired the art of Utrillo, Braque, Matisse, Gauguin, Cézanne and Picasso, and especially for Van Gogh.
He returned to China in 1950 and taught at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. His works were condemned before and during the Cultural Revolution since his art did not comply with the political interests of the time. During these trying times, he continued to paint his works have come to be admired both inside and outside China.
(2015 update: I was so inspired by Wu’s watertown paintings that while I visited Shanghai in 2015, I made a special trip to the watertown of Wuzhen , one of the places that Wu painted. It’s amazing how Wu could capture the beauty of the place with minimal brush strokes. )
Being born and raised in Hong Kong, I am so proud that Wu Guan Zhong painted Hong Kong’s skyline many times, and made Hong Kong his home in his later years.
I would not attempt to describe his paintings since it would be an insult to his art. Wu is one of the few famous contemporary Chinese artists who decided not to sell the bulk of his paintings but instead donated them to museums for the public’s enjoyment.