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Born in Sichuan in 1901, Chinese-French painter Sanyu was among the first group of Chinese artists to study in Paris. He chose the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere that was far removed from artistic academic training at the time. Unlike many of his contemporaries, for example Lin Fengmian, he remained in the city afterwards and regularly exhibited his works in Salons d’Automne and at the Salon des Indépendants. In addition he spent two years in New York, however his career excelled and was based in Paris until his death in 1966.
Called by prominent expert and scholar Rita I-Wong ‘the Chinese Matisse’, Sanyu became a part of the evolving modernist movement in the 1930s and 40s, taking particular influence from impressionism. His employment of western artistic styles led him to elect to use oil paint. He was greatly inspired by photography and its idea of looking at subjects from a different perspective
After his death, the National Museum of History in Taipei regularly held exhibitions and seminars on his works. In 2001, a grand retrospective exhibition was held at the Taipei National Museum of History and 142 pieces of his artwork were exhibited under following three categories: still life, nudes and landscapes, representative of the three consummate aesthetic concerns Sanyu had been pursuing throughout his life.
Recently, Sanyu’s popularity was epitomised at the Autumn series of auctions at Christie’s, Hong Kong. His works Pot de Pivoines and Bouquet de Roses dans un Vase Blanc were the first and second highest works realised at their Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art auction in November 2014.
His exquisite Pot de Pivoines sold for HK$56,120,000 and his Bouquet de Roses dans un Vase Blanc sold for HK$47,160,000, both above the estimated amount. This scale of interest received by these paintings elevated the artist onto a pedestal not experienced previously.
The interest surrounding his works is due to the thought provoking nature, impressionism at its best. While the subject is real life, his works is not meant to reflect real life. The proportions and symmetry means the flowers cannot exist in the form they are painted in. The result is an attractive, thought provoking narrative within his work.
Born in Guangdong province to a father and grandfather who carved tombstones, Lin Fengmian was to be considered a pioneer within modern Chinese painting for blending Chinese and western styles. He was also important innovator in the area of Chinese art education. He began carving and painting as a child and sold his first painting at the age of nine.
Moved to France in 1920 to study painting, then Berlin in 1923. From 1925 he was principal of Beiping State Vocational Art School. He prestigiously founded the National Academy of Art (now called China Academy of Art) in 1928 and was its first principal.
Sadly, many of his early works were destroyed by Japanese soldiers during the Sino-Japanese War. Many of his later works were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. He then personally destroyed many of his works after being heavily criticised and denounced by the Gang of Four – he soaked them and flushed them down the toilet. Still, he was imprisoned for four years. After being released, he slowly began to recreate many of his previously destroyed works in Hong Kong. The pain he went through to his artistic position should not be forgotten, but remembered.
So recently passed away, the life and works of Chinese-French abstract painter Chu should be celebrated. Together with schoolmates Wu Guanzhong and Zao Wou-Ki, they were dubbed the ‘Three Musketeers’ of modernist Chinese artists who were trained in both China and France. Prestigiously, Chu was the first ethnic Chinese member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts of France. He worked at the Naitonal Central University in Nanjing until moving to Taiwan after the communist victory in mainland China where he taught western style painting. He moved to Paris in 1955 where he remained for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1980.
His portrait of his wife Tung Ching-Chao won the silver medal at the Paris Salon in 1956. This exquisite work was praised as the ‘Mona Lisa of the East’ by Wu Guanzhong. Indeed Chu called the painting his ‘lucky star’ for after its production his career took off. His artistic direction changing to more landscape based ideas solidified his position within the industry. Indeed now his paintings are now in the permanent collections of more than 50 museums all over the world and he should be ranked on a level to his contemporaries such as Wu Guanzhong.
Zao was a Chinese French painter, a prestigious member of Academie des Beaux Arts. An example of ethnic chinese who gained prominence in Europe, indeed his work should be seen on same artistic level as European masters of the art. Zao studied Calligraphy from a young age, moved to Paris in 1948. His early exhibitions were praised by such European masters as Picasso. Influenced by Pop art during his stay near the art scene of New York and the seven canvases that he painted now sit in the Detroit Institute of Arts. The pain of divorce and then the suicide of his second wife can be seen to have greatly influenced his work. He is particularly noted for his big-bang style large canvases where his abstract masses of colours appear to materialise a creating world. While we can se his work as stylistically similar to the Abstract Expressionists whom he met in New York, he was still greatly influenced by Impressionism and he cited Matisse, Picasso and Cezanne as his inspirations. With his recent death, he is remembered as one of the forefront 20th Century Chinese artists who was able to bridge the east and west.