(CHANG YU, Chinese, 1901-1966)
Pink Chrysanthemums in a White Vase
signed in Chinese; signed 'Sanyu' in French (lower right); date '4. 1931'; inscribed 'Paris' in French (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
100 x 70.5 cm. (39 1/4 x 27 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1931
Henri-Pierre Roche, Paris, France
Yvonne Vierne, Paris, France
Christie's Hong Kong, 31 October 2004, Lot 659
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Rita Wong, The Li-Ching Cultural and Educational Foundation, Sanyu Catalogue Raisonn? Oil Paintings (II), Taipei, Taiwan, 2011 (illustrated, plate 78, p. 124).

Brought to you by

Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

Sanyu's work represents a critical era of exploration and achievement within the Chinese history of art, which explains the phenomenal historical significance of Sanyu as an artist. Sanyu travelled to Paris to develop his artist career in the early half of the 20th century. It was a time when Western learning was gradually brought to the East, allowing frequent cultural exchanges and a time when Chinese artists were actively pursuing the integration of Western and Chinese artistic approach. Sanyu's work displays the linkage between traditions with modernity in Chinese art; it bridges the use of the ink medium with that of the oil paint; the application of brush strokes with that of colours to archive a perfect union. This has made his work an exemplified embodiment of continuity and inheritance within the recent hundred years of Chinese art.

Floral still-lifes were an important theme among Sanyu's works. Pink Chrysanthemum in a White Vase (Lot 1007), created in 1931, is one of his earlier works centering on this theme. Adopting a harmonized and mild colour scheme, the overall pink tone creates a serene and tranquil atmosphere, which is a visual realization of the literati's pursuit of grace and elegance. This scholarly sentiment, unique of the Eastern style, is often found in Sanyu's works on bouquet created in the 30s. The branches, leaves and vase are outlined in a fluid and sleek brush strokes. Sanyu is meticulous with the application of variations between lightness against weightiness, slowness against swiftness, dryness against dampness, as well as the intensity of the strokes. He displays form with a strong calligraphic playfulness, which differs from use of colour and brightness to create spatiality and three-dimensionality in Western classical oil painting. The treatment of the chrysanthemum and the vase is an incarnation of the creative philosophy of the Yuan painter, Ni Zan; who proposed 'to paint spontaneously with brisk and hasty stokes, not in pursuit of physical likeness'. The brush strokes of the vase are impulsive and deft; the fluid lines reflect the smooth and delicate surface of the Chinese ceramics. The outline of the protruding part of the vase lightens as it curves, subtly hinting on the light source while also creating three-dimensionality. The strokes that forms the petals, branches, leaves and the vase reveal the trail of the paint brush, allowing the viewer to read the temporality that is hidden between the lines. Not limited to defining spatiality, this use of strokes to reflect time in art, adds another appreciative angle to the painting.
Sanyu's use of lines as an expressive tool is varied and ever-changing. In his early bouquet works, he particularly likes the method of scraping off oil paint. The scraped painted surface reveals the background colours while forming bold and forceful strokes. The method elaborates the unique malleability of the oil paint medium. At the same time, it displays an ancient austerity of the art of Jinshi seal carving, creating an enriched visual effect. The firm and parched petals are placed in juxtaposition with the sleek and supple rendition of the vase; the different in texture stresses on the contrast between lightness and weightiness. It acts as an agent that balances the pictorial surface. The process of scraping is itself an act of 'deduction', yet it has created an 'additional' effect. Using 'absent' line to represent the 'actuality' of the chrysanthemum, the method is attuned with the traditional Chinese concept and practice of 'the reciprocal co-existence between abstract and substance'.

The work illustrates Sanyu's playful mediation between Western and Chinese art, and his ability to integrate and transform the synthesis of the two cultural styles.
In Pink Chrysanthemum in a White Vase, the vase seems to be placed in front of a windowsill where the sunshine pours in pleasingly from behind. As the background colour is very similar to that of the depicted subjects, the light seems to have speared through the petals, branches, leaves and vase. The horizon of the desk is undefined. The transition from the foreground to the back is hinted upon by the subtle change in colour tone. The entire imagery is bathed in the warmth of sunlight, creating a hazy scene that prompts association with the Impressionist master, Claude Monet's use of colour. The scene is mysterious as if it were a dream or an illusion. The instant moment of affection is turned into timeless serenity, which reflects Sanyu's sensibility in terms of colour use. At the same time, the keeping of white spaces at the background echoes with the practice in literati painting in which the concept of 'white equals black (void equal existence)' is often applied. The quaint and solemn atmosphere is close to the Daoist ideal of a contemplative state devoid of every matter. Sanyu paints concisely, as the old saying describes 'value the ink as if it were gold'. There are no unnecessary details in the background. Applying Bada Shanren's concept of 'simplicity', the unlimited imaginary space can be created with the least combination of lines, and the scene is transcended into a state of surreal actuality through the creation of a pure and soulful image.

During the course of Western development of art, until the post-Impressionist painters are dissatisfied with merely pursuing the image through the surface of light and form. Their works gradually develop to express their personal emotions and sentiments, while adopting a more reflective approach in the use of colors and shapes. This creates a visual language that is away from storytelling and narration, which is very similar to the traditional Chinese aesthetic concern over abstract philosophy and symbolism. Giorgio Morandi depicts bottles and cans, sitting on the table in a placid and repose manner. The spatial plane and the purist colour combination are sympathetic with the spiritual solidarity that Sanyu searches for. The pair is a complicit example of the correlative and compatible tie between the Western and Eastern notion of art. However, a further detailed comparison would reveal that Sanyu has offered an even deeper extension in his conception. His choice of the chrysanthemum reminds the viewer of the metaphorical style of Chinese poem and prose. The imagery of chrysanthemum represents a character with pride and dignity - referring to the image of the flower resisting the fierce winter; and a reclusive and carefree spirits that also display elegance and taste. These are metaphors that represent the literati's elevated qualities. Though the work is not inscribed with poem like a traditional ink painting, it still subtly asserts a poetic sense. The work finds its inheritance in the Chinese artistic combination of poem and painting, and through this, the oil painting is injected with an expressive force that is out of the inclusion of mere visual element.

Whether it is the brushwork, colour scheme or the spatial arrangement, Sanyu maintains the elegant and pleasant artistic sentiment of the Chinese literati painting in his work. The bouquets under his paint brush are peaceful and pleasant. Through a minimalist and honest use of lines, he leads the viewer into the broadest contemplative universe, where they would travel through poetic sentiment and visual imagery, reality and dreamscape. Sanyu's thorough understanding of and familiarity with the Western and Chinese painting medium is expressed in his work, serving an important role of translating the two artistic trends. He has opened up a broad and free creative path for the generations of modern Chinese artists to come, which is why he is one of the most widely acclaimed Chinese artists in the Western artistic field.

More from Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)

View All
View All