Gu Shengyue is a great artist famous for “figure paintings of Zhe School”. Unsophisticated, dignified, delicate and simple are the artistic style of his meticulous figure paintings. In terms of expressions, he is good at grasping the nuances of emotions on faces and extracting their temperament and characteristics. Regarding the background, he is accustomed to use a single color to highlight the fantasy and holiness of the whole image. He is natural, confident and harmonious while using the lines to emphasize the profundity and elegance of models. Besides, he devoted his heart, emotions and feelings when sketching people. His figure sketches, full of emotions and realistic in shapes, reflect natural and unrestrained touches.
Ningbo Museum of Art collects nine meticulous Chinese paintings and 25 figure sketches of Gu Shengyue, including famous works like Eminent Monk, Uyghur Elder and Girl and Dog. Through four chapters – religious figures, ancient anecdotes, exotic border areas and moments of emotions – the curator tries to peek into the art style of Gu Shengyue.
About the artist
Gu Shengyue (1927 - 2012), born in Putuo, Zhejiang province, is good at Chinese paintings and sketches. He graduated from Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts in 1949. The next year, he furthered his study at East China Branch of Central Academy of Fine Arts. He stayed at the school as a teacher two years later. In 1961, he became a member of China Artists Association. In 1985, he moved up his rank to professor. He once was President of Hangzhou Artists Association, Head of School of Chinese Painting of Zhejiang Academy of Art, Deputy Director of Zhejiang Painting Academy, President of Zhejiang Figure Painting Research Institute and Vice Chairman of Chinese Traditional Realistic Painting Art Committee. His artworks were exhibited and awarded for various times home and abroad, and were collected by museums and galleries. He has published over 10 books, including Selections of Figure Sketches of Gu Shengyue, and Gu Shengyue Realistic Figure Painting. He was awarded the special allowance from State Council.
I. Religious Figures
Eminent Monk, 64×88cm, Chinese painting, 1988
Painting interpretation: Eminent Monk was created after the artist’s Thailand trip. He painted the front of the model instead of movements and put it at the center. As for the background, he didn’t leave it in blank. For instance, the moon at the back of the monk brings out his holiness and wisdom. The monk looks dignified and reserved. His posture looks concise and simple. It reflects a crucial step of Gu to transform from expressive to impressive figure paintings.
Lama, 66×110cm, Chinese painting, 1995
II. Ancient Anecdotes
Portrait of Ancient Scholar Shen Wenguang, 63.5×168cm, Chinese painting, 1995
Painting interpretation: Portrait of Ancient Scholar Shen Wenguang was specially created for Ningbo-Taiwan Calligraphy and Painting Exhibition in 1991. It was exhibited in Ningbo and Taiwan. Shen Wenguang, born in Lishe village, Yinzhou District of Ningbo, was a model for eastern Zhejiang scholars of Ming and Qing dynasties. With admirations for the scholar who came from the same city and sharing the love for hometown, the artist portrayed him like a sage and painted his scholastic style. The face was delicately painted and fully colored. The clothes were accurately and strongly drawn with proper spaces.
Poetic Wang Wei, 73×86.5cm, Chinese painting, 1993
Zhong Kui, the Chinese Ghost Buster, 57×75cm, Chinese painting, 2006
III. Exotic Border Areas
Uyghur Elder, 56×81cm, Chinese painting, 1982
Painting interpretation: in Uyghur Elder, the elder, with sharp and dignified eyes, leans on a walking stick. The artist only painted the upper body and focused on the face and hands. The color of the whole image is simple with white hat, silver beard, black gown and yellow background forming strong contrast, bringing out the vivid figure.
Uyghur Doppa Hats, 54×91cm, Chinese painting, 1984
Painting interpretation: Uyghur Doppa Hat was created in 1984. In this painting, the elder Uyghur man selling doppa hats wears a broad smile. His gown and boots reflect distinct features of ethnic minorities. The wooden rack which holds the hats and the cloth bag by the man’s side were perfectly added to the white background. The mirror on the wooden rack shows us how meticulously the artist observed the life.
Yi Lady, 64×74cm, Chinese painting, 1989
Yi Girl, 55×54cm, Chinese painting, 2011
Above painting interpretations are exerted from Zhang Weiping’s article “The Spiritual Meaning of NMA-Collected Gu Shengyue’s Realistic Figure Paintings”.
IV. Moments of Emotions
The artist cleverly deployed the secrets of sketches – emotions, feelings, vividness and speed, focused on sketching the world he lived in and highlighted the portraits of characters. Through the portraits of appearances and details, he conveyed the inner world, spirits and temperament of the models in a vivid and expressive way.
Elderly Uyghur Woman in Xinjiang, 39×54cm, sketch, 1979
Uncle Liang, 32×47cm, sketch, 1978
Probing, 27×37cm, sketch, 1975
Girl and Dog, 27×39cm, sketch, 1976
Sitting Lady, 44×44cm, sketch, 1982
Gu Shengyue’s realistic Chinese paintings establish his own school. As the famous art critic once commented: Gu’s art is both conventional and modern with paintings meticulous yet rigid, delicate yet thin, fine and vivid, common and amazing. All of his brushstrokes were purposely made. With his own style, his art comes from life, but stands above life. He has expanded a new development path for figure paintings. In the meantime, Gu Shengyue is also an art educator. He taught art at China Academy of Art for nearly 40 years and has many outstanding students. During his term as the head of School of Chinese Painting, he not only focused on the originality and uniqueness of Chinese realistic paintings, but also made sketching an important part of basic modeling course to run through the whole teaching process, which made significant contribution to the theories and practices of sketch teaching in fine arts colleges and universities. Therefore, both as an artist and art educator, Gu is an important figure of Chinese paintings in the 20th century that one cannot miss.
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Translated by: Fan Xinyi