(CHANG YU, Chinese, 1901-1966)
L'Atelier, pose du modèle (Model Posing in Studio)
Henri-Pierre Roché's label affixed to the stretcher on the reverse
mixed medium on canvas
60 x 92.5 cm. (23 3/4 x 40 1/2 in.)
Painted circa 1930s
Henri-Pierre Roché, Paris, France
Jean-Claude Riedel, Paris, France
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Rita I-Wong (ed.), The Li Ching Cultural and Educational Foundation, Sanyu Catalogue Raisonné: Oil Paintings Volume II, Taipei, Taiwan, 2011 (documented, p. 178).

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Lot Essay

Sanyu studied painting at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. At the start of the 20th century, a revolt against the conservative École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) was launched, which opened up the possibilities for independent art (Sanyu was selected several times to show at the Salon des Indépendants). A free and open environment was established by the École de Paris. Non-French artists active in Paris from 1900 to 1940, including Picasso and Modigliani, and French artists such as Matisse came together and turned Paris into the world's art centre. This lasted until the conclusion of World War II, when the focus shifted to New York. In early 1945, an article by Sanyu titled Reflections of a Chinese Painter on Picasso was published in Le Parisien libéré (now Le Parisien), in which he wrote that Picasso "has guided us away from the era of academy-style painting and to revolt against conservatism to march toward a brand new path... If Rembrandt were still alive, I believe he wouldn't be painting the same type of paintings. Art must progress, just like fashion. You wouldn't ask a designer to make the same type of clothing from Rembrandt's time. Picasso's deconstruction is merely just the first step." The liberating creative environment of the time combined with Sanyu's progressive views allowed him to transcend deconstructionism and move towards minimalism and abstraction, all the while under the setting of Western modernist thinking.
Sanyu arrived in Paris in 1921 then traveled to Berlin to visit the married couple, Xu Beihong and Jiang Biwei. Upon his return to Paris in 1923 he began his studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière on Boulevard du Montparnasse and remained in Paris until his death in 1966. Many important artists congregated at the Académie, including Alberto Giacometti, who had travelled from Switzerland to France in 1922, Louise Bourgeois, and Alexander Calder, to name a few. Montparnasse in the 1920s was a hub where many artists gathered, and Sanyu himself frequented the cafés in the area to observe pedestrians and sketch café patrons. The Académie became an important starting point for Sanyu to observe the human figure and to paint nude portraits, which would later develop into his most celebrated subject, the female nude.
With L'Atelier, pose du modèle, Sanyu transports his viewers to the Académie de la Grande Chaumière of the 1920s. It is as if the viewer is a participant in the work, like the figures sketching in the foreground. A sketch was made by Sanyu for this painting, and such complex composition is quite rare in his oil paintings. The model has her legs raised high, which seems to hint that the central focus of the painting is the figure's 'legs'. In a letter Xu Zhimo wrote to Liu Haisu, he mentions the 'cosmic legs' that Sanyu painted, which reveals that Sanyu was quite focused at the time on painting the legs of female nudes. The entire painting is predominantly composed of ink lines, with their varying degrees of opacity, thickness, solidness, lightness and strength, showcasing Sanyu's exceptional technical control. The painting also shows his skill in Chinese calligraphy. With its large empty voids accompanied by ink-wash-like tones and shadows of charcoal blended gradations, the work demonstrates Sanyu's style in the 1920s. Sanyu once declared that his work was constant pursuit of the perfect line, and from his early sketches to the oil paintings post-1929, his artworks show he was quite capable of using lines to depict the contours of his subjects.
The sketch for L'Atelier, pose du modèle was completed around 1929, and it was then that Roché began to encourage Sanyu to experiment with oil painting. L'Atelier, pose du modèle is perhaps the best example of Sanyu's attempt to use oil paints to create ink-brush-like lines. The swiftness of the lines does not allow for corrections. The interplay of wet and dry brushstrokes successfully captures the spatial ambiance of the studio, projecting a sense of vivid immediacy.

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