Obituary: Wu Guanzhong, 1919 – 2010

Wu Guanzhong (吴冠中), a contemporary Chinese painter, died in a Beijing hospital on Friday, aged 90. He was born in Yixing County (宜兴县), Jiangsu Province, on August 29, 1919. He graduated from the National College of Art in 1942, and studied fine arts at the National Higher School of Fine Arts (巴黎国立高等美术学校, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts) in Paris from 1947, and returned to China in 1950 to teach at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (中央美术学院), Tsinghua University’s Department of Archtecture, the Beijing Academy of Fine Arts (北京艺术学院), and the Central Academy of Arts (中央工艺美术学院 – now the Academy of Arts and Design of Tsinghua University). Functionaries of the China Artists Association (中国美术家协会) credited him with the creative concept of modernization of Chinese painting (“中国画现代化” 的创作理念) and the nationalization of oil painting.

Wu was part of a generation of Chinese painters, along with Zhao Wuji and Zhu Dejun, who went to France to study painting in the 1940s and then set about helping to transform Chinese art with Western techniques, the New York Times wrote in 2005. The suggestion that Wu helped to bring about the nationalization of painting, as Chinese obituaries quote the China Artists Association, points into a different, or at least different, direction.

At the most recent CPPCC conference (of which Wu was a member, too), China Artists Association’s deputy chairman and Guangdong Painting Academy president Xu Qinsong accused “western Capital” of influencing the trends of domestic (Chinese) art. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a recent Minsheng Bank’s decision to invest in contemporary Chinese art was political, and not simply about sponsoring.

During the Cultural Revolution, Wu Guanzhong was sent to the countryside to work in a Hebei village. In 1973, he was retransferred to Beijing to create paintings for a hotel, and in 1978, the Central Academy of Arts, the institution he had taught at from 1964, organized an exhibition of his works, apparently as a signal of rehabilitation. In 1991, he became an Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

In 1994, Wu became a member of the CPPCC’s Standing Committee, and in 2007, the Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House published The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong.

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