Art Market

A huge painting by Sanyu could break the Chinese-French artist’s auction record for the second time in two months.

Christy Kuesel
Oct 17, 2019 4:18PM, via Christie’s

Sanyu, Five Nudes, ca. 1955. Est. in excess of HK$250 million (US$33 million). Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.

Christie’s is looking to build on the market momentum behind Sanyu, the Chinese-French painter who died in 1966. His large painting Five Nudes (ca. 1955) will star in the auction house’s 20th century and contemporary art evening sale in Hong Kong next month. A new record for Sanyu’s work was just set at Sotheby’s earlier this month, when his Nu (1965) sold for $HK 198 million ($25.2 million), but Christie’s is confident it can top that and expects Five Nudes to sell for at least $HK 250 million ($33 million).

The November sale won’t be the first time Five Nudes has appeared at auction. In 2011, the painting broke the record for any oil painting by a Chinese artist, bringing in $16.5 million. That record is now held by a Zao Wou-Ki work that sold for $65 million last year.

Sanyu, Nu, 1965. Sold for HK$198 million (US$25.2 million). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Five Nudes is the largest work featuring female nudes the artist ever created, and depicts the greatest number of figures within a single Sanyu composition. According to Christie’s, Sanyu created 56 known oil paintings that feature the female nude during his lifetime, with only six others featuring standing figures. Five Nudes depicts five nude women against a rich maroon and mustard background, with cats playing at their feet.

Sanyu was born in 1901 and moved to Paris in 1921, making him one of the first Chinese artists to study in France. Although he is now hailed as the “Chinese Matisse,” he was relatively unknown throughout his life and died in poverty in 1966 without ever returning to his native China. Taiwanese art dealers rediscovered him following a 1988 exhibition featuring his work in Taipei. Joining Sanyu on the auction block at Christie’sNovember 23rd sale in Hong Kong will be a number of other sought-after Asian painters, including Zao, Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, and Kim Whanki.

Christy Kuesel