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Wu Dayu
Wu Dayu  (1903 — 1988)
Wu Dayu, who is considered one of the fathers of Chinese oil painting, was born in Yixing County, Jiangsu province in 1903. He began studying painting privately in 1909 and went to Paris in 1922, enrolling in the L'Ecole Superieure Nationale des Beaux Arts. Returning to China in 1927, Wu Dayu taught at the Shanghai Art School and, in 1928, co-founded the National Arts Academy, Hangzhou, becoming the first Dean of its Western Painting Department. While there, he created the Art Movement Society and its influential publication, "Apollo." Wu continued to teach at the National Arts Academy, which was moved to Yuanling, Sichuan Province, in 1937 following the Japanese invasion. In 1950 he left the school to work privately. Returning to Shanghai in 1965, he became Vice-President of the Shanghai Painting Studio and a member of the General Council of the Chinese Artists' Association. During the Cultural Revolution, Wu's work was denounced by the Chinese government and consequently much of it was destroyed. In 1982, Wu Dayu participated in the Shanghai Oil Painting Exhibition, Beijing which was the first exhibition held after the Cultural Revolution that focused on the work of the first generation of Chinese oil painters. He died in Shanghai in 1988. In 1996, a large exhibition and seminar on Wu Dayu's work was held in Beijing and in 2001, the National Museum of History, Taipei, presented a retrospective exhibition on Wu Dayu.


  • Peking Opera, C. 1970's
    Oil on Canvas
    22" X 16" (55.9cm x 40.6cm)

    About this work

    Wu Dayu studied in Paris and said often that he was influenced by the Impressionists; however, his own work is clearly abstract. Both critics and fellow artists believe that Wu Dayu's painting was uniquely Chinese modernist and, as one of the first generation of Chinese oil painters, he created a style all his own, blending techniques he learned in the West with a Chinese sensibility and sensitivity. Wu Dayu often used scenes from Chinese operas as his subjects. In "Peking Opera" he has managed to capture not only the movement of the performer, but the detail of the costuming. Everything blends in rhythmic motion; even the colors of blue and yellow combine to become subtle shades of green.   

  • Rhythm of Chinese Opera, C. 1970's
    Oil on Canvas
    15" x 20" (38.1cm x 50.8cm)

    About this work

    Wu Dayu's abstracted paintings of Chinese operas are full of swirling colors yet the figures of the performers are always evident. It was the artist's attempt to show the viewer the movement of the performer. However, in this particular painting, the figure, seen in the very center of the canvas, is isolated from the background as if it is the stage itself that is moving. 

  • The Reflection of the Figure Through the Mirror
    Oil on Board
    17 1/2" x 13" (44.5cm x 33cm)

    About this work

    Having studied in Paris in the 1920's, Wu Dayu would undoubtedly have seen Picasso's cubist studies like "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" that referenced African art by replacing heads with carved masks. Some viewers might even see aspects of Cubism in Wu Dayu's paintings. Clearly, in Wu Dayu's "The Reflection of the Figure Through the Mirror" we can see a central figure with a head that resembles a mask. Because we can also find examples of carved masks in Chinese folk art, it is possible Wu Dayu referenced his own culture's art in a similar fashion. The beauty of abstraction is that it leaves a lot to the viewer's imagination; is the central figure in this painting formed of the mask itself, or is the mask the reflection in the mirror? The color scheme of this painting is unique to Wu Dayu's art utilizing blues and greens and light touches of yellow that blend to create depth and perspective, tonality and texture.  

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