SANYU (CHANG YU, 1895-1966)
SANYU (CHANG YU, 1895-1966)


SANYU (CHANG YU, 1895-1966)
signed in Chinese and signed ‘SANYU’ (lower left); signed in Chinese and signed ‘SANYU’, inscribed ‘le 26 Juin 1960 à Peter T. Paris’ (on the reverse)
oil on masonite
10.5 x 21.3 cm. (4 1/8 x 8 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1940s
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
Rita Wong (ed.), Sanyu: Catalogue Raisonné: Oil Paintings (Volume II), The Li Ching Cultural and Educational Foundation, Taipei, Taiwan, 2011 (illustrated, plate 291, p. 100 and 138).
Eslite Gallery (ed.), An Intimate View: Sanyu’s Small Masterpieces, exh. cat., The Eslite Corporation, Taipei, Taiwan, 2018 (illustrated, p. 69).
Taipei, Taiwan, Eslite Gallery, An Intimate View: Sanyu’s Small Masterpieces, March – April 2018.

Brought to you by

Dexter How (陶啟勇)
Dexter How (陶啟勇) Vice President, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

According to Sanyu: Catalogue Raisonné Oil Paintings: Volume Two published by the Li Ching Cultural and Educational Foundation, both parents of Peter Tcherepnine, the current collector of this work, were musicians, and they knew many of the most prominent Chinese artists such as Sanyu, Pan Yuliang, and Zao Wou-Ki. After purchasing Bowl of Fruits (catalogue raisonné number CR268) in the late 1940s and Potted Chrysanthemums (CR285) in 1960, Sanyu gifted the work Leopard (Lot 211) to the young Peter Tcherepnine to express his gratitude for the Tcherepnine family's appreciation of his art. Leopard is a testament to the long-lasting friendship between the American collector and the artist early in his artistic career. By gifting this work to Peter, Sanyu was continuing his friendship with the next generation of the family who had been both a patron and a bosom friend. On the verso of Leopard, it was signed "à Peter T. le 26 Juin 1960 Paris". ("For Peter T., 26th June, 1960"). Not only does this inscription verifies the provenance of the work, it is also a rare specimen in which Sanyu provided important background information. Such an exceptional feature contributes to the research and collecting value of this already artistically rich work.

If works of nudes and floral still lifes highlight the opulent and sophisticated upbringing of Sanyu, then works of animals should reveal the rambunctious side of the artist that is guileless and natural. Robert Frank, a world-renowned photographer and lifelong friend of Sanyu, witnessed the artist's love for animals — in the 1940s when they were living in New York, Sanyu would often visit the Central Park Zoo with his friends. Frank also observed that Sanyu would spend hours looking out from their studio window to look at squirrel and mice that were living in the building across the street and make up elaborate stories for them. It is likely that the young leopard depicted in the work offered in this auction was one of the characters who appeared in Sanyu's reverie. Through the medium of oil painting, the artist breathed life into this fantastic creature from his imagination.

Leopard is a subject matter that constantly made appearances throughout Sanyu's oeuvre. The artist might have been inspired by a leopard that was kept at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris during the early parts of the 20th century. The exotic animal drew much attention and became the subject of many works by poets and artists who had the opportunity to observe this fascinating creature. Sanyu's depiction of the leopard departs from typical portrayals in which the agility and ferociousness of the animal are emphasised. In this ingenious visual narrative, the artist leads the viewer to first examine the back of the animal — it retracts its powerful limbs and lies languidly on the ground. Gently lifting its head as if it is waking up from an afternoon nap, it directs its gaze at the viewer as if to inquire what their intentions are. Such a quizzical expression forms a picture of humour and whimsey.

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