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


SANYU (CHANG YU, 1895-1966)
signed in Chinese and signed ‘SANYU’ (lower right)
oil on masonite
26.5 x 21.5 cm. (10 3⁄8 x 8 1⁄2 in.)
Painted in 1930-1940s
Jean-Claude Riedel, Paris
Sotheby’s Taipei, 15 October 1995, lot 144
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Rita Wong (ed.), Sanyu Catalogue Raisonne Oil Paintings, YAGEO Foundation, Lin & Keng Art Publications, Taipei, 2001 (illustrated, p.312)
Rita Wong (ed.), Sanyu: Catalogue Raisonne: Oil Paintings (Volume II), The Li Ching Cultural and Educational Foundation, Taipei, 2011 (illustrated, plate 191, p.138)

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Lot Essay

The female nude, floral and animal paintings are widely considered as the three-key subject matter within Sanyu’s oeuvre. It could be said that his innovative nudes were an embodiment of incorporating Eastern aesthetic sensibilities, while his floral works expresses his admiration for the spirit of the ancient Chinese scholar-painters. Whereas his depiction of animals is often known as metaphoric expression of the artist’s deep inner feelings. Oil works by Sanyu are rarely seen on the market, from 1990s to present day there has only been 30 works with animal subjects that have made an appearance. Most notably, Sanyu’s one of one-of-a-kind Goldfish that set a new auction record for his animal series, selling it for 170 million Hong Kong dollars at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2020. Further indicating the strong interest and desire for this particular theme among the world’s top collectors. The present lot is a rare and valuable representation of the artist’s animal-themed works, more importantly only 2 out of the nearly 300 oils from the artist features deer, this particular deer stood out for the pink flecks across its body. A beloved and treasured possession of its current collector since acquiring it in 1995, the work’s re-appearance at auction this season marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for global collectors.

The deer itself possesses significant and symbolic meaning in traditional Chinese culture. From its totemic status in the eyes of early nomads, to the sacred images of the "nine-coloured deer" found on the murals of the Dunhuang Caves, this imagery has eventually evolved to represent many auspicious meanings due to its shared pronunciation with part of the Chinese phrase "fu lu shou xi" – a wish for health, good fortune and long life. In a similar manner, Sanyu was also very fond of the deer imagery, specifically the sika (or spotted deer), and this was evident as he had his drawing of a small sika deer printed on an announcement for his exhibition at the Kunstzaal Van Lier in the Netherlands in 1934 (see illustration).

Sanyu's Doe, dating from the 1930s and 40s, embodies the unique style with which he integrated the vivid liveliness of oils with the spirit of Chinese ink painting. His brushwork, colour and handling of space follows the Western technique, meanwhile retaining elements of Eastern aesthetics. Sanyu is known for focusing on one principle – less is more, to breakdown lines and simplify them yet his simplification never became drab. In Doe, Sanyu captures the reclining deer's outlines with just a few simple black lines, succinct but full of vitality. In contrast to the depiction of deer as docile animals in traditional Chinese imagery, he paints the doe with its head tilted to one side, gazing steadily but in a playful manner at the viewers, achieving a similar effect as those animals painted by Bada Shanren. The white opaque body of the deer along with its pink spots glows like a mythical creature against the empty pure black backdrop. The Doe seems to be immersed in a boundless realm of awareness, beyond ordinary time and space, as free and frank and unfettered as the artist himself, projecting a kind of soulful power that rises above the mundane world.

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