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Sotheby's to present a museum-quality large-format masterpiece by Modern Chinese artist Sanyu
Sanyu (1901 – 1966) Potted Chrysanthemums. Circa 1950s, Oil on Masonite, 130.3 x 74.5 cm. Expected to fetch in excess of HK$40 million / US$5.1 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong is honoured to present Potted Chrysanthemums – a seminal 1950s piece by modern Chinese master Sanyu (1901 – 1966) – at its Modern and Contemporary Asian Art – Evening Sale taking place on 5 April 2014. This large-format 130.3 x 74.5 cm museum-quality masterpiece belongs to Sanyu’s celebrated Potted Flower Series, and was especially chosen by the artist to participate in the Jansonne Triennial Art Exhibition in France in 1958. The majestic Potted Chrysanthemums boasts a rich composition on masonite, and only the prestigious Sanyu collection from the National Museum of History in Taiwan has a group of works of comparable quality by the artist. Compared with its sister painting of the same English title, which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2012, the present Potted Chrysanthemums displays an even more nuanced and graceful splendour although they share a similar creative approach. Sanyu’s oil paintings are highly prized among collectors for their rarity. Appearing on the market for the first time since its exhibition appearance over half a century ago, Potted Chrysanthemums is expected to realise in excess of HK$40 million / US$5.1 million*.

Sylvie Chen, Head of 20th Century Chinese Art Department, said: “This Spring, Sotheby’s is very privileged to bring to the market a majestic, museum-quality still life of Potted Chrysanthemums by Sanyu which was last seen by the art world in France in 1958 and is causing tremendous excitement. The work is more than twice the size of its sister painting of the same English title which was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2012 for HK$30.9 million / US$3.96 million. The debut appearance of the present Potted Chrysanthemums on the market after half a century at the upcoming Modern and Contemporary Asian Art – Evening Sale presents an unprecedented opportunity for collectors to acquire an important Sanyu work, while offering a glimpse into the history of the artist’s rarely known life in France.

“Back in 1992 when collectors started noticing the beauty and prominence of modern Chinese oil paintings, I organised the first solo exhibition for Sanyu at Dimensions Art Gallery in Taipei, which came with the production of an exhibition catalogue – the first ever publication on Sanyu’s works. The exhibition showcased only ten works by Sanyu but was enough to give a glimpse of the essence of Sanyu’s oeuvre for his entire artistic life, so much so that many collectors started acquiring the artist’s works. Over the course of 20 years, Sanyu is now recognised as an esteemed artist in the history of Chinese art, while his works are highly sought-after by connoisseurs.”

East Meets West - The Potted Flowers Series
One of the first generation of Chinese artists to live in France, Sanyu travelled to Paris in 1921 and remained there for the rest of his life. He embarked on his famed Potted Flowers Series in the 1930s, and continued to work on this richly autobiographical theme for the rest of his career. Sanyu reached a new level of artistic maturity in the 1950s, creating works in which his cultural roots are more vividly portrayed through a plethora of Chinese elements. The present Potted Chrysanthemums is a stunning example of this development. This work uses an upward-extending form suggestive of traditional Chinese scrolls and screens to portray a Western still-life subject – a pot of French marigolds with verdant foliage. The elegant plant stands proud and tall, asserting its honorable spirit and integrity, as though a metaphor of the artist’s own extraordinary yet solitary existence. The graceful use of ravishing shades of emerald green makes reference to Chinese lacquerware traditions, while the greatly simplified background of pure red and bright yellow reflects the influence of both French and American post-war Abstractionism, including Mark Rothko.

Sanyu and Jansonne Triennial Art Exhibition in 1958
Jansonne, situated in the south of France, was the site of an international art exhibition which used to take place every three years at the Château de La Jansonne, and acted as a platform for French artists to exhibit their works. On the reverse of Potted Chrysanthemums, Sanyu’s name and the address of his residence in his later years (“San-Yu 28 rue de la Sablière Paris IDF”) can be found written above a label referring to the work’s participation in the Jansonne Triennial Art Exhibition 1958 (“La Triennale de la Jansonne 1958 Sélectionné pour concourir”) (pictured right). This exhibition label is also found on other entries from the exhibition.

In the 1958 Triennial, only 240 entries were selected out of 617 works from seven countries, among them Sanyu’s Potted Chrysanthemums. He submitted this painting in an effort to introduce his distinctive “East-meets-West” aesthetic to a Western audience. His name was listed in the exhibition invite, and was featured in an article in Le Provencal dated 11 March 1958 about the Triennial.

In the early 1960s, Sanyu sent a selection of works to Taipei as part of an unrealized plan to move back to Asia. Those works were not returned to him before his untimely death in 1966, thereafter became part of the prestigious collection of the National Museum of History in Taipei – currently the leading public collection of Sanyu’s work in terms of quality and quantity. Potted Chrysanthemums, arguably rises to this height of quality and rarity in the artist’s oeuvre and is one of the few Sanyu works in private hands to do so. Consigned by a Parisian collector of great discernment, Potted Chrysanthemum’s appearance on the market after half a century is an exciting contribution to the history of 20th Century Chinese painting.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.

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