Wu Zuoren was born in 1908 in Jingxian County, Anhui province. He began his formal training in art at the age of 19, entering the Architecture Department of the Suzhou Industrial College. He moved to the Shanghai Art Academy in 1927, but transferred to the art department of the Central University of Nanjing in 1928 where he studied briefly under Xu Beihong. In 1930 he was encouraged to go to Europe where he enrolled at the L’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts. He later moved to Brussels where he studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Belgium. In 1935, Wu Zuoren returned home to China and became a professor in the Oil Painting Department at the Central University of Beijing. In 1937, Wu Zuoren moved to Chongqing to teach at the Central University. In 1947, he traveled to Europe to present a series of one-man exhibitions in London, Paris, and Geneva. At the start of 1949, he became a professor in the Oil Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, and by 1958, was appointed Director. He also served as President of the Chinese Artists’ Association and Vice-President of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles. In 1984, Wu Zuoren won The Most Noble Medal of Art and Literature given by the Ministry of Culture of France and, in 1986, received an honorary Medal of Arts from the King of Belgium in recognition of his contributions to modern Chinese painting. Wu Zuoren died at his home in Beijing in 1997. Today, he is considered one of the few Chinese artists who gained equal acclaim for both his brush works and oil paintings.
Dragon Character, 1986
Watercolor and Ink on Paper
41" x 41" (104.1cm x 104.1cm)
About this work
Wu Zuoren was commissioned by Robert Hefner to create a symbol that would represent the spirit of his collection. Wu Zuoren stated about his painting, “I created this symbol for The Hefner Collection because the dragon stands for unlimited power and constant change, as well as the Chinese people and their art.” The calligraphy is written in a cursive style. The chop on the lower left is referred to as the ‘introduction chop’ and is translated as “Water is not necessarily deep.” Wu Zuoren took this from a poem written by the Chinese poet Tao Yuanming that says a house is not as attractive until it is lived in by a person who makes it well known. In essence, the artist was saying that The Hefner Collection would become known by the dragon character and that the dragon character would represent the Chinese artists in the collection.
Still Life, 1948
Oil on Canvas
25 5/8" x 21 1/2" (67.7cm x 54.6cm)
About this work
This beautiful still life of a vase full of brightly colored summer flowers is a superb example of Wu Zuoren’s oil painting style of the late 1940’s. In an interview with Wu Zuoren’s wife, Xiao Shufang, herself a recognized artist, she said of this painting, “At the end of the 1940’s, both my husband and I enjoyed making still lifes. I chose the vase for this particular painting at our home. My husband bought the red flowers at the market and we mixed them with sunflowers from our garden. It became one of our favorite still life paintings and hung in our home for many years.”