(CHANG YU, Chinese, 1901-1966)
Zèbre (Zebra)
signed in Chinese ; signed 'SANYU' in French (upper right)
oil on canvas
46 x 38 cm. (18 x 15 in.)
Painted circa 1930s-1940s
Henri-Pierre Roché, Paris, France
Jean-Claude Riedel, Paris, France
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Yageo Foundation, Rita Wong and Lin & Ken Art Publications, Sanyu: Catalogue Raisonné - Oil Paintings, Taipei, Taiwan, 2001 (illustrated, plate 192, p. 313).
Rita I-Wong (ed.), The Li Ching Cultural and Educational Foundation, Sanyu Catalogue Raisonné: Oil Paintings Volume II, Taipei, Taiwan, 2011 (illustrated, plate 192, p. 138).

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Lot Essay

In a letter written to Liu Haisu in 1929, the Chinese poet Xu Zhimo made mention of a 'horse' painting that Sanyu had promised to give him. Although the painting is untraceable today, it is known that in 1926 a painting of 'a horse with earthy unpolished lines' was hung in Sanyu's house. Sanyu later began to use large brushes to paint desert-like backgrounds, making the animals in his paintings appear minuscule and helpless. This transition was a reflection of Sanyu's internal state after the 1930s when he moved from living an opulent life to feeling alone in the world. The imagery was an expression of the grand emotional state he carried within. His friend Albert Dahan recalled that Sanyu once pointed at the animals in his painting and said: "This is me." Sanyu's animal subjects are amusing and memorable, reflecting the artist's unique imagination and observations on the world.
Sanyu applied the approach of 'simplification and re-simplification' to the expressions of lines, as well as to the painting's composition through the minimal use of colour. As such, the artworks are reduced to portraits of the artist's inner self. As Lao Tzu said, "five colours blind the eye"; a mixture of colours could cause a painting to lose its focus. The use of pale pink, white and black, as demonstrated in Zèbre (Zebra), became distinctive of Sanyu's oil painting style in the 1930s. The animal's white body stands against the black background while pale pink stripes form the key foundation of the painting. The long white blocks at each end frame the image like curtains signaling the zebra to emerge from the dark. The flat black background makes the zebra appear as if it is floating in an unknown space while the pale pink stripes on the zebra create a sense of three-dimensionality. However, the flat background gives the entire image a flattened two-dimensional effect, while also giving it a three-dimensional singular perspective. As pale pink zebras do not exist in the world, the artist painted not in pursuit reality, but rather to evade the truth of his poverty-stricken state. In doing so, a deeper, inner truth was revealed.
"Sanyu's use of pale pink is a result of extensive contemplation, and the style differs from fauvism's vibrancy, as it embodies an integrated and singular oriental implication. The use of the pink is really irreplaceable and undeniably accurate. Sanyu has used the three colours of pink, white and black to construct his oil painting style of the 30s, and because of the efforts exuded for this minimalistic colour scheme, Sanyu was able to achieve a perfect transition and fusion between Chinese ink-brush painting and Western painting."

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