Lot 1005
  • 1005

SANYU | Deer

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 HKD
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  • Sanyu
  • Deer
  • signed in Chinese and French; 7 Impasse du Rouet, 75014 Paris, France on the reverse
  • mixed media on paperboard
  • paperboard size: 25 by 25 cm; 9 ⅞ by 9 ⅞ in.frame size: 30.5 by 29.2 cm; 12 by 11 ½ in. 
executed in 1930s


Acquired directly from the artist by a private Swedish collector
Thence by descent to the present important private collectors


The work is overall in good condition. Conservation report is available upon request.
"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

Delightful Treasures Filled with Joy and Warmth Sanyu’s paintings on animal subjects from the 1930s mainly focused on smalls animals that were tame and nimble. A sense of joy and blessing was often conveyed in these paintings, reflecting the artist’s own carefree life as a young person, when he, being thoroughly in love, fully immersed himself in his married life. This formed a sharp contrast to the lone wild animals depicted later. One can see that the subject of animals has evolved with the artist’s personal experiences over more than three decades, offering a profound and biographical glimpse into Sanyu’s life. In the artist’s anthology, there are just over a dozen of such early oil paintings depicting animals. Although the dimensions are small, the symbolic meanings are rich, and they are keenly sought after by collectors. For example, in 2013, Sanyu’s Goldfish (3.8 x 50.2 cm, 20M) was offered at Sotheby’s Hong Kong 40th anniversary evening sale, the painting was sold for HK$ 67,320,000. To date, it still holds the record of Sanyu’s oil paintings per surface area, setting an important benchmark for the market. In the upcoming evening sale, Brown Pekineses on a Chair (Lot 1004) and Deer (Lot 1005), both appearing for the first time in auction, are also among the classics within this group of works. The original collector came from Sweden, studied art abroad in Paris in the 1930s, and acquired these two paintings directly from Sanyu between 1934 and 1939, alongside oil and ink painting Still Life and Gloves (Lot 775), prints Lotus dans un vase (Lot 776), Acrobate (Lot 777), Baigneuse (Lot 778), Zèbre (Lot 779), Léopard (Lot 780) and Chaval genoux (Lot 781) in the upcoming modern Asian art day sale. All nine paintings are in frames made and painted by Sanyu himself, while he also wrote his address “7 Impasse du Rouet, 75014 Paris, France” at the back of Brown Pekineses on a Chair and Deer. According to Sanyu’s anthology, this address was used by the artist when he participated in the 1936 Salon des Tuileries. The address can also been seen on the catalogue of the Tuileries salon, confirming the original collector’s own experience. Such treasured paintings appear in public and in auction for the first time after eight decades, offering exciting new opportunities for those who study and collect Sanyu’s early works.

Brown Pekineses on a Chair depicted two petite, adorable pekinese dogs with brownish-red fur huddling against each other. From Sanyu’s anthology, one can see similar small dogs as well as the rattan chair against which the dogs leaned appeared in paintings from the same period. One can deduce that the artist might have been particularly fond of this animal, hence including it in his paintings on many occasions, both capturing its cuteness while expressing a subtle feeling of homesickness. On the other hand, the pair of pekinese dogs in the present work huddled together intimately, a strong suggestion of love and romance. Within the intimate body language was also a kind of deeply hidden demand for passion and lust. Goldfish which was created in the same period carried the message of sexual pleasure (in Chinese, “the pleasure of fish in water” is a saying referring to sexual pleasure), reflecting the artist’s desire and pursuit for love as a young person. It also evokes within the viewer the warm and romantic feeling of being in love. The creation of Deer signified the transition from household pets to outdoor wildlife as subjects of Sanyu’s paintings. According to his close friend, American photography master Robert Frank, Sanyu loved animals. During the 1940s while in New York, not only did he enjoy visiting the Central Park Zoo, but also (he) "would look outside the back of the loft to observe the rats and squirrels and wrote long stories about them." Although such recollections referred to a later stage of the artist’s career, Sanyu’s love for small animals were apparent even at a young age. Deer depicted the animal’s delicate presence, with long, lean legs and spots on its pale brown body like fallen cherry-blossom petals, conveying a beauty that was fresh and healthy. The deer’s horn suggested that it was a young female deer. It stood innocently in the golden prairie, its small and pointy ears, like shaved bamboo,were upright, as if it was keenly listening to all the messages in its surrounding, ready to sprint in the next moment. It displayed a sense of rhythmic vitality that when it was still, it was gentle and graceful, then when it moved, it was fast and nimble like a running rabbit, drawing the viewer in, to observe with care, as if the deer would be gone without a trace if one stopped paying attention for a brief moment.  In his anthology, there was another painting also entitled Deer. The young female deer in that painting was eating grass. Although the postures of the deers in the two paintings differed, both paintings successfully captured the nimble spirit of the animals depicted, so in that sense, there was a lot in common between the two pieces.


A White-Glove Selection:

Sanyu’s Fine Pieces in Modern Asian Art Day Sale

As mentioned in the first paragraph, in addition to Brown Pekineses on a Chair and Deer in the evening sale, there are also seven Sanyu works in the day sale being offered, all originating from the same owner. In particular, Still Life and Gloves (Lot 775) was executed on paper using oil paint and ink, a rare creative medium for the artist. Sanyu’s still life paintings mostly depicted vases as the main subject, while the current lot was filled with the spirit of life drawing and real life, its free-spirited brushstrokes and presence followed the same origin as Sanyu’s watercolours drawings from the 1920s and 30s. Still Life and Gloves depicted a round table covered by a red table cloth. On the top right hand side, there was a stack of porcelain plates that carried inscriptions. In the middle of the table was a white handbag, on which a pair of white gloves were placed prominently. The shape of the paper used for the present work was irregular, suggesting that the artist might have picked up the piece of paper casually, then glued it onto a paper card before framing the painting. Upon closer examination, one could see that between the paper card and the sheet of paper there were faint brush marks. This in fact came from the artist himself, expressing a kind of creative thinking that was experimental yet well-considered. The creative concept of these prints appeared to be the same as that of Still Life and Gloves. The type of paper used in each of the seven prints was extremely irregular, yet the images itself were complete. In addition, the current pieces came with the artist’s original signature and edition number, showing that the artist chose this type of paper with rough edges intentionally, then mounted and framed this painting. Among these works Lotus dans un vase (Lot 776), Baigneuse (Lot 778), Zèbre (Lot 779), Léopard (Lot 780) and Chaval genoux (Lot 781)  had already been included in the 2017 SANYU Catalogue Raisonné: Prints. Acrobate (Lot 777), on the other hand, is a print of Sanyu that had never been seen before. It was also the only tri-colour print discovered to this day. Although Sanyu’s prints were often printed with an edition size of 50, most of them had gone missing, leaving only very few still in extant. As so few have survived, their uniqueness is no less than the original.  These are great treasures that can only be found through serendipity, yet this rare set of works will be offered in the upcoming sale. The exceptional provenance is especially highlighted by its origin - a single owner who has cherished these great works of art for eight decades.