Lot 8
  • 8

Sanyu (Chang Yu)

18,000,000 - 25,000,000 HKD
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  • Sanyu (Chang Yu)
  • Fruits
  • oil on canvas
signed in Chinese and Pinyin, executed in the 1930s


Robert Frank Collection, New York
Sotheby’s, Taipei, 19 October, 1997, lot 9
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


Amsterdam, Kunstzaal Van Lier, Sanyu, 13 - 31 May 1933
Paris, The Guimet Museum, Sanyu: l'écriture du corps, 16 June – 13 September 2004, pl. 80, p.182     
Dresden, Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Germany, Madonna Meets Mao, 31 October 2008 – 11 January 2009, p. 59


Rita Wong, ed., Sanyu: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings, Yageo Foundation, Ling & Keng Art Publications, Taipei, 2001, pl. 69, p.173
Rita Wong, ed., Sanyu: Catalogue Raisonné, Oil Paintings Volume Two, Li Ching Cultural and Educational Foundation, Taipei, 2011, pl. 69, p.123


This work is in good condition. There is evidence of hairline craquelure across the surface of the painting and light wear, slight paint losses along the four edges, consist with the natural aging process of the medium. There is slight undulation at the top left corner. There is evidence of scattered small paint losses along the right edge, 15 cm from the bottom edge. There are light stains 20 cm from the left edge and 30 cm from the bottom edge of the painting and a minor dent at the lower left corner, presumably inherent to the artist's working method. This work has been relined. Under UV: there is evidence of scattered spots of retouching across the surface of the painting, predominately along the edges and in the upper left part of the work: one is 5 cm in length, 7 cm from the top edge and 10 cm from the left edge with another two retouching spots 3 cm in length right underneath.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

An Abundance of Fruits, a Rich and Lasting Charm
Sanyu’s Classic Work of the 1930s: Fruits

In 2004, Sanyu: L’ecriture du corps (Language of the Body) was held at the Musee National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet. This grand exhibition was organized by the vice director of the Musee Guimet, Jean-Paul Desroches, and was one of the largest solo exhibition of Chinese artists the museum has ever hosted. With the context of Western art history, the curator redefined Sanyu’s position in history and his historical height. Focusing on the “body” and “nature,” this exhibition completely represented one hundred artworks of the artist. People were able to see the nudes, still life, and animals that are Sanyu’s specialties. This exhibition presented the artist’s avant-garde art and wisdom as well as his eternal artistic splendor during a great era.

At the entrance of the exhibition hall, the curator specially ordered many rectangular banners and hung them on the ceiling. The banner displayed portraits of the artists of Ecole de Paris gathering in Montparnasse, Paris in the early 20th century. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Léonard Foujita were all notable faces present. The focus of this solo exhibition, Sanyu, was in the center. This arrangement quietly demonstrated people’s appreciation and the repositioning of Sanyu in the academic circle. Spectators could deeply sense the unique aesthetic charm and the gifted genius flowing in Sanyu’s veins from the representative work exhibited. One of the pieces represented was the renowned Fruits (Lot 8), Sanyu’s classic work of the 30s.

The Characteristics of Chinese Aesthetics

In 1927, Sanyu met a French woman, Harmonyer, at Damaowu Studio. They fell in love and got married in 1929. The joy of love had an impact on his artistic creation. The 30s represented Sanyu’s “pink period.” He painted a series of nudes and still life with major tones of elegant pink and white. When first learning oil painting, artists usually began with the still life of fruit. Sanyu, however, expressed his unique style in painting still life. Even though he often painted fruit on a table, unlike others, he usually chose fruit that symbolized fertility in Chinese culture, such as peaches and pears. Peaches represent longevity in Chinese culture. In Journey to the West, peaches are seen as the fruit of gods. Pears, on the other hand, suggest good luck. These two fruit appear often in Sanyu’s work in the 30s, such as Three Peaches, Five Peaches, Three Pears, Five Pears, Bowl of Fruits, and Basket of Fruit. His choice of objects was not out of coincidence but arranged on purpose to convey a Chinese touch. Peaches and pears also appeared in Fruits. Compared to the other works of the same topic, the fruits in this work are not placed inside a bowl or a plate. Instead, Sanyu placed the fruits directly on the table. This kind of arrangement reveals Sanyu’s exploration of art. In Fruits, Sanyu arranged his lines, color blocks, and planes by exerting different strength. He outlined the solid shape of the fruit precisely and purely, each brimming with wisdom and skill. Sanyu’s arrangement of fruits in this panting is extremely interesting. Instead of standing still on the stable, the fruit circles around each other as if it were alive. The fruit form a circle where pink, green, dark gray and brown actively play the notes of life in a lively and smooth stroke. This painting vividly marks Sanyu’s outstanding artistic language, and the lines reveal the artist’s solid foundation in calligraphy. With simple, absolute, and precise brush strokes, Sanyu displayed the form, structure, and spirit of his objects, revealing the demeanor of an art master. Chinese landscapist Huang Binhong once said, “There are master painters and famous painters. A master only paints with a few strokes. The hundreds of strokes of a famous painter cannot even compare to a single stroke of the master. The master leaves no weak strokes.” Between the intertwining turns of lines, an artist paints one’s straightforward personality over the canvas.

The Embodiment of Avant-Garde Painting

In terms of composition, Sanyu divided the canvas into three parts with black and white blocks. He dominated complexity with simplicity, using the simplest forms to mark the table and cloth as well as their relation to the space around them. If we ignore the fruit at the center, the whole work resonates with Mark Rothko’s abstract color block paintings created since 1943. On a square canvas, Rothko often put together two to three color blocks without distinct boundaries. He represented the powerful energy of matter through large color blocks with strong psychological and spiritual appeal. He once said, “My paintings are plays in which the shapes are the performers who play their roles based on my creation. Once they stand on the stage, they are challenging the unknown. Paintings are magical, eternal, and complete. I express complicated thoughts with simple forms.” Sanyu created Fruits in the 30s, which was earlier than Rothko, which seemed to show his boldness and avant-gardism with his artistic creation. Both of them demonstrated how to reveal the essence of things with the simplest forms. In addition, Sanyu incorporated multiple perspectives into this work. For example, the painting presents an overlooking view of the table while the fruits were presented from a side view. Sanyu managed to present a sort of strange balance and harmony through the arrangement of the objects, which was truly extraordinary.

Rita Wong observed that “Sanyu preserved the original strokes and outlines of traditional Chinese paintings and employed them in a more abstract form and composition. We have seen Sanyu transform from a modern Chinese painter to a Chinese modern painter, meaning that he turned from a “Chinese painter” in modern times into a “modern painter” capable of grasping the essence of Chinese culture. The force to interweave these roles came from the unprecedented fusion of different cultures.Fruits embodied the avant-garde thought of Sanyu as a modern artist. He freely captured the artistic nutrients in Paris, the melting pot of art, presenting the simplest beauty of life through his paint brush by using his unique method and understanding that is full of his own artistic language. When completed, this work was exhibited at the Kunstzaal Van Lier, Amsterdam in May, 1933, and his photographer friend, Robert Frank, collected the piece later. The piece has been kept in good condition by the present owner for 16 years. Now, art lovers should not miss the release of this precious work.