A Sanyu sold for several millions – Aguttes sale
Sanyu was born in 1895, in a very well-to-do family from Sichuan province. His father, an animal painter specializing in lions and horses, passed on the rudiments of his art to him. His elder brother, at the head of the family business, encourages him in his passion. Through a significant financial support, he allows him to follow the teaching of Zhao Xi, a famous calligrapher, then to go to the University of Shanghai, before, finally, to perfect his training thanks to a final year program that will take him to Japan, then to Berlin and finally to France. Sanyu settled in Paris around 1923 and, unlike his contemporaries Xu Beihong or Lin Fengmian who, after a time, chose to go to China, and whose work was then celebrated fairly quickly, he decided to pursue his own research in this Parisian circle that he found so stimulating, making France his home base. It was a courageous choice which resulted in a belated recognition of his true talent in Asia. On his arrival, he chose the courses of the Académie de la Grande Chaumière where he mainly studied nude on live models.
In doing so, he already showed his open-mindedness which led him to deal with an exclusively Western subject. He applies the method of Chinese calligraphy which consists in reproducing the same character until he masters it completely. The strokes are incisive, the sketches multiply. From 1925 onwards, he regularly exhibited at the Salon d’Automne (1925, 1928) but also in Parisian galleries. He was also often selected to exhibit at the Salon des Indépendants (1932, 1938, 1942-1946, 1948, 1954-1956).
The period of the early 1930s was very fertile. The death of his brother marked for the artist the end of a certain financial affluence and the beginning of what he described as his “bohemian life”. Fortunately, Sanyu’s work was then noticed by the well-informed art dealer, Henri-Pierre Roché (1879-1959), known for his active support of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Constantin Brâncusi, Marie Laurencin, Man Ray and Jean Dubuffet. The latter bought about 111 paintings and 600 drawings from him. While thus bringing the artist out of anonymity, Henri-Pierre Roché gave him the financial means to devote himself to his work. At this time, Sanyu produced numerous nudes with a mastery of the representation of the human body which, combined with a minimalist approach and extreme inventiveness, led him to be nicknamed the “Chinese Matisse”. In his quest for perfection, he manages to combine his own tradition, stemming from classical Chinese painting, with a modern Western style. The result is a serene and uncluttered art where the simplicity of the line and the fluidity of the line allow him to capture the essence of his subject. Throughout his career, Sanyu will work on three themes of predilection: nudes, animals and still life.