• Ayesha Dodo-Williams

Art Index: Sanyu

Sanyu, Marriage Bouquet (c. 1930s). Oil on canvas. 73 x 54 cm. Courtesy Tina Keng Gallery, Taipei.


Sanyu or Chang Yu (Chinese: 常玉; 14 October 1901 – August 1966) was a Chinese-French painter.

According to his biography on Sotheby’s he was among the first wave of Chinese artists of the Paris School during the 1920s and was a modernist master known for his nude studies and calligraphic style. His paintings are highly sought after by collectors all over the world today, and some even refer to the artist as the “Chinese Matisse.” This was not always the case, however, as Sanyu’s works were largely overlooked during his lifetime.

Sanyu was born in 1895 to a wealthy family in Nanchong, Sichuan. He learned to paint from his father, Chang Shufang, and practiced calligraphy under the tutelage of Zhao Xi. He traveled to Japan in 1919 and then in 1921, inspired by the wave of students traveling to France under the government sponsored program initiated by Cai Yuanpei, Sanyu departs for Paris to study art with the support of his brother Junmin. It was at this time that Sanyu began his love-affair with bohemian Paris. He thrived at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Unlike his compatriots, Sanyu did not return to his home country after finishing his studies but instead, remained in Paris. He experimented with reinterpretations of traditional Chinese art, developing a unique, cross-cultural aesthetic. He favored nudes, flowers and animals, with paintings that employed lighter colors and soft tones.

SANYU, 1895 - 1966, QUATRE NUS

After traveling in Japan and then Shanghai the artist finally settled in Paris where he stayed for roughly two years.

All that is really known of his time there was that his calligraphy was published in a Japanese magazine, though Lavender Au suggests that Sanyu, like others of his generation, was drawn to Japan's embrace of modernization.

Once he completed his studies Sanyu remained in France and started experimenting with reinterpretations of traditional Chinese art, developing a unique, cross-cultural aesthetic. He favored nudes, flowers and animals, with paintings that employed lighter colors and soft tones.

Art dealer Henri-Pierre Roché and composer Johan Franco were among those who promoted Sanyu’s work. Outside of Europe, admirers included the poet Xu Zhimo, the writer Shao Xunmei, the photographer Robert Frank, and fellow Sichuan artist Zhang Daqian. However, what began as a career of immense promise saw limited commercial success. As the vicissitudes of expatriate life and poverty took their toll, the artist’s later works took on richer, somber colors and frequently portrayed lonely, wandering animals.

In 1966, Sanyu died from a gas leak in his Paris apartment, and at the time of his death, had fallen into relative obscurity.

In a 1992 Sotheby's auction, Sanyu garnered the spotlight, when one of his paintings fetched three times the estimate. The Guimet Museum, Paris, hosted an extensive retrospective of the artist’s works in 2005. Other important collections of his works are at the Cernuschi Museum, Paris, and the National Art Museum of China, Beijing.


SANYU, 1895 - 1966, NU

According to Artprice.net Doig’s turnover in 2020 is $142,388,487 with the last peak in price dated 2019.

The oldest auction result ever registered on the website for an artwork by this artist is a painting sold in 1986, at Charbonneaux, and the most recent auction result is a drawing-watercolor sold in 2020. His most sold pieces are drawing-watercolor, paintings, print-multiple, sculpture-volume.

Most of his works were sold in the range of $10,000-$50,000.

Distribution by price (by Artprice)

There are no artworks by SanYu currently listed in upcoming public auctions.

Sanyu - 14 Artworks, Bio & Shows on Artsy

sanyu nu ||| beauties ||| sotheby's hk0886lotbccrqen

Sanyu: An Introduction to a Modern Master | Ocula

Sanyu | Art, Biography & Art for Sale | Sotheby’s

SAN Yu (1901-1966) : Auction sales, auction prices, indices and biography of SAN Yu - Artprice.com

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