Sanyu (Chinese, 1901-1966)
Born in Nanchong in the Chinese province of Sichuan, he came from a wealthy family that owned a significant silk weaving factory. A precocious enthusiast of art, he initially took drawing and calligraphy lessons taught by his father and the renowned calligrapher Zhao Xi. Following a journey to Japan between 1918 and 1919, he pursued studies at the University of Shanghai. Like many Chinese students of that era, he went to France to study art under a program supported by the Chinese government. He commenced his studies in 1921 and settled permanently in the capital in 1923.
After a brief stint of a few weeks at François Flameng's studio at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he opted for a more liberated education and joined the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. There, he discovered and experimented with life drawing, a daring choice for a Chinese painter who, at that time, tended to favor traditional Asian pictorial codes. He also created numerous sketches of his classmates. The discovery of this technique and the ensuing explorations had a considerable impact on the artist's work, with his nude studies being highly sought after today.
The economic crisis of 1929 affected the artist's family business in China, causing several financial difficulties for him. Subsequently, he embarked on new explorations into line work and reduced his palette to white, black, and pink. Some critics referred to this period as the artist's "pink period." In 1931, his encounter with the art dealer and collector Henri-Pierre Roché revitalized the artist's career by purchasing a large portion of his output: 109 paintings, 600 drawings, and 34 engravings. From 1932 onward, SanYu moved away from nudes and drawing, focusing instead on animal portraits and floral compositions in oil painting.
Despite this period of prosperity and several exhibitions, the painter gradually faded into obscurity and passed away in poverty.
Considered by many as the "Chinese Matisse," his art navigates a subtle transition between Asian tradition and European Avant-Garde exploration. He is hailed as a leading artist in the art market since the 2000s, with his paintings highly coveted by collectors, often fetching prices surpassing a million euros at auctions.
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