Christie’s Will Auction Sanyu’s Still Life for $11M in Upcoming Hong Kong Sale

Shreeya Maskey
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Though Sanyu was little known during his lifetime, the art world recognized his contributions to Modernism long after his death. Sanyu’s still life paintings are particularly notable. Today, he is known as one of the most influential painters of the 20th century. Sanyu spent most of his artistic career developing his signature floral themes. Describing his art, he said: “… when one looks at it, one knows well enough what it is all about. All that my works declare is simplicity.”

Christie’s modern and contemporary art auction, held in Hong Kong on May 24th, 2021, will feature a painting by Sanyu titled Potted Chrysanthemums. Sanyu’s still life piece will be on display in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Taipei prior to the sale.

Sanyu (Chang Yu), Potted Chrysanthemums, 1950s. Image from Christie’s.
Sanyu (Chang Yu), Potted Chrysanthemums, 1950s. Image from Christie’s.

Born in Sichuan, China, Sanyu learned about modern art after he traveled to Japan in 1918. He then moved to Paris in the early 1920s to trace the artistic movement back to its source. It was only then that Sanyu explored the many dimensions of Modernism, combining traditional Chinese paintings with Fauvist palettes. Sanyu painted numerous floral still lifes between the 1930s and the 1950s.

Potted Chrysanthemums will be offered with an estimate of HKD 78 million to 120 million (USD 11 million – $15 million). The intricacy of this work reveals the influences of traditional Chinese folk art. The 1950s painting shows a set of pink chrysanthemums stemming from branches outlined in blue. To eliminate any distractions from the central subject, Sanyu used a black backdrop that draws attention to the details of the plant. According to Christie’s, this work is one of the few late-period Sanyu still lifes still in private hands.

Sanyu (Chang Yu), Five Nudes, 1950s. Image from Christie’s
Sanyu (Chang Yu), Five Nudes, 1950s. Image from Christie’s

Sanyu’s later works tend to fetch the highest prices at auction. His auction record was set in November of 2019 after a nude portrait sold for HKD $303 million (USD $38.72 million) during Christie’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale. This price surpassed the painting’s high estimate of HKD $150 million. Sales within the last ten years have seen growing interest in Sanyu’s later works. The worth of his art has been appreciated by staggering margins since the early 2000s. More recently, Sanyu’s still life depicting a goldfish achieved USD 22 million in December of 2020. 

Sanyu died in 1966 and remained forgotten until Taiwanese art dealers discovered his work in the 1980s. Since then, several museums and galleries in China have organized exhibitions to honor his legacy, including Eslite Gallery, Tina Keng Gallery, the National Museum of History, and Lin & Lin Gallery. 

Sanyu’s still life painting will come to auction on May 24th, 2021. Visit Christie’s for more information.

Want to know more about Sanyu’s still life works? Auction Daily recently looked at one of his highest-valued paintings along with other Hong Kong auction results.

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