"I am getting more serious because I understand life better now. That is perhaps an instinctive response to my understanding of life now, which is fuller, heavier and also darker."
Wu Guanzhong, whose fusion of Western modernism and traditional Chinese painting made him one of China’s most forward-looking and admired artists, died on Friday in Beijing at age 90. In 1950, Mr. Wu returned to China after three years of study in Paris, where he came under the spell of van Gogh, Utrillo and Modigliani and enthusiastically embraced modernism’s license to experiment. Trained in traditional Chinese ink and brush painting, as well as Western-style oil painting, he went on to develop an artistic hybrid style expressed in landscape views captured on painting trips all over China and beyond. During the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Wu, along with his colleagues and students at the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts in Beijing, was sent to do hard labor in a remote village in Hebei Province, in the northeast. He was forbidden to paint for three years. In 1972, along with other notable artists, he was summoned back from internal exile by Premier Zhou Enlai and commissioned to paint a large mural at the Beijing Hotel.
He returned to ink and brush painting, which he had studied under Pan Tianshou, in part because of the space constraints of his apartment in Beijing. In 1978 he had his first one-man show, which traveled throughout China. In 1992 the British Museum organized an exhibition of his work, "Wu Guanzhong: A 20th-Century Chinese Painter." Mr. Wu won recognition as one of China’s most original artists and became a darling of Asian and Western collectors. In 2009 his works fetched nearly $40 million at auction. This month his 1974 oil painting "Panoramic View of the Yangtze River" sold for $8.4 million at an auction in Beijing.