Wu Hufan (1894 - 1968)
Willow Trees against Spring Clouds
ink and colour on paper, hanging scroll
132 x 66 cm. (52 x 26 in.)
Haishang Paintings, the Shanghai World Expo China Pavilion, November 2011
Collection of Wu Hufan's Paintings and Calligraphy, p.66, Shanghai Fine Arts Publishing House, May 2001
The Series of Grand Masters of Chinese Paintings: Wu Hufan, p.24, Hebei Education Press, December 2002
Collection of Wu Hufan Paintings (volume I), p.95, Beijing Arts and Crafts Press, January 2006
Haishang Paintings, p.114, Shanghai Fine Arts Publishing House, November 2011
Master of the Painting World: Wu Hufan, p.102, Shanghai Fine Arts Publishing House, May
Willow Trees against Spring Clouds depicts a heavenly scenery in Jiangnan during March. The floating clouds and fog are brought to life with every skilful stroke of the ink brush. In his portrayal of the peach blossoms and willows in the springtime Jiangnan and in a village south of Yangtze River, the artist integrated the styles and techniques of a variety of artists such as Huichong, Danian, Songxue, and Hengshan, without any trace of imitation. The landscape is painted with a combination of brush stroke skills from Tang dynasty and for painting mountains landscape in Song style. With dense, solid dark lines, he presented us with a rigorous yet graceful display of craft that landscape with an exquisite ambiance that demonstrates his flawless technique as a painter. The work boasts an ethereal and sumptuous “S”-shaped setting, with a tasteful colour presentation. The painting features stone green as the main colour - with rocks and trees standing in contrast against each other and interspersed with rocks painted in ink and water, resulting in a painting with different colours, shades, and “three distances” (san yuan ); with water, banks and valleys in colour and ink; and green willow trees, colourful peach blossoms, rivers and lakes that exude irresistible beauty and serenity. Coupled with the harmony of colours, the depth, profoundness and far-reaching sense of beauty of this painting makes it a masterpiece of Wu’s green landscape painting comparable with the works of Wang Jian, regional governor of Lianzhou. Like a green brocade, the heavenly mountains in the painting blossoms like young girls' cheeks against endless whiffs of waves and warm breezes. The painting intoxicates its audience and transports them to the spring time. Artists that advocate water colour and ink paintings consider ink as their colour. But Wu Hufan did just the opposite, and took colour as ink and applied dark and thick ink lines to the varied colour, in a pleasant harmony between colour and ink.
Willow Trees against Spring Clouds was rendered by Wu Hufan in March 1939 for his friend and a famous jurist, Yu Xianzhang, who was known as "three heroes of Beiyang Period” together with Li Dazhao and Ba Jianwu. In 1913, Yu Xianzhang was the director of the editorial department of a monthly publication calledYan Zhi , and in 1917, he ran the magazine Sijue in Shanghai. Wu Hufan and Yu Xianzhang were both writers for the magazine Qinghe, which first came into publication in 1932 whose writers were traditional literati and good friends of like mind, including Yu Yue, Chen Sanli, Wang Kaiyun, Mao Heting, Ye Gongchuo and Xia Jingguan. In the first issue of Qinghe, both Wu Hufan and Yu Xianzhang were ranked as the top writers, and Willow Trees Against Spring Clouds is a testament to the friendship between the Haishang literati in 1930s.