[Chinese Painter, 1903-1988]
Wu Dayu may still be an unfamiliar name to art lovers home and abroad, but he had students who have made big names for themselves, such as Zao Wou-ki, Chu The-Chun and Wu Guanzhong. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Wu. Shanghai Art Museum is holding a solo exhibition of 100 works by Wu. This is the first time Wu's work will have had a systematic showing on the Chinese mainland.
Wu was one of the forerunners of the introduction of Western art into China in the early 1900s. He studied in France and returned in 1927 to found an art school in Hangzhou in East China's Zhejiang Province together with Lin Fengmian, which turned into the China Academy of Fine Arts. Chu said that Wu was the teacher from whom he learned the most at art school, introducing him to Impressionists, especially Cezanne.
Wu was influenced by modern Western art such as Fauvism, Expressionism and Cubism. His early large-scale works were destroyed during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-45) and the "cultural revolution"(1966-76).
He painted only small works in the last 10 years of his life, constrained by eye illness and a small living space. They are mainly abstract paintings with bright colours, although there are also a few portraits of family members. He used to send messages through friends to Chu in France, asking for pigment as domestic-produced colours would fade with time. Chu sent him large packs of pigment and was glad to hear that Wu's paintings since 1980 had been executed in high-quality materials.
Wu's works were purchased by collectors in Taiwan, as the domestic art circle didn't pay enough attention. His work was very difficult to find on the mainland. The Shanghai Art Museum didn't have a single work from Wu, even though Wu spent half of his life in the city. The museum and the Shanghai Oil Painting and Sculpture Institute made a great effort to put together the 100 exhibits for this show.
"We turned down works which raised any doubts among the judges," said Qiu Ruimin, director of the institute. Wu's works went for auction at over 300,000 yuan (US$36,144), which made forgeries highly profitable. Wu never signed his work, believing none of them were complete or good enough. Wu's students remember his great personality as well as his artistic achievement.
Qiu related an incident concerning Wu to the press at an introduction to the exhibition. At Wu's funeral, the then vice mayor's presence surprised many people. "He was my uncle," said the mayor."Father told us to keep the relation a secret as he didn't want to affect the mayor's work," Wu's son said.
Wu had a rough life, floundering between institutes and teaching jobs. His name was almost forgotten by the domestic art circle, but scholars believe that he will gradually win a much higher position in Chinese art history.