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Jess Johnson: Worlds Within Worlds Ocula Conversation Jess Johnson: Worlds Within Worlds

Geometric patterns, anthropomorphic characters, architectural spatial environments, and relics of the ancient world appear throughout Jess Johnson's artworks.Johnson's solo art-ventures began in drawing, but her long-term collaborative relationship with animator Simon Ward brings her drawings to life in videos and virtual reality. The animator has...

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Melati Suryodarmo: Performance Art as Trigger Ocula Conversation Melati Suryodarmo: Performance Art as Trigger

In 2012, Melati Suryodarmo opened Studio Plesungan in her native Surakarta, also known as Solo, the historic royal capital of the Mataram Empire of Java in Indonesia. Suryodarmo had returned to Indonesia from Germany, where she studied Butoh and choreography with Butoh dancer and choreographer Anzu Furukawa, time-based media with avantgarde...

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Lagos Biennial 2019: Stories from Africa’s most Populous City Ocula Report Lagos Biennial 2019: Stories from Africa’s most Populous City 15 Nov 2019 : Jareh Das for Ocula

Under the direction of Folakunle Oshun, the second edition of the Lagos Biennial (26 October–23 November 2019) includes works by over 40 Lagos-based and international artists, architects, and collectives. Curated by architect Tosin Oshinowo, curator and producer Oyindamola Fakeye, and assistant curator of photography at the Art Institute of...

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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough Ocula Insight | Video
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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough 15 October 2019

Hans Hartung and Art Informel at Mazzoleni London (1 October 2019-18 January 2020) presents key works by the French-German painter while highlighting his connection with artists active in Paris during the 50s and 60s. In this video, writer and historian Alan Montgomery discusses Hartung's practice and its legacy.Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hans...

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(1901 - 1966), China

Hailing from Szechuan Province, China, Sanyu (常玉) was among the first generation of Chinese artists to study and settle in Europe. His life and oeuvre was characterised by liminality—a fusion of Eastern and Western traditions, informed by his training in traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy and inspired by the new Modernist trends he encountered in Paris that defined his work. After decades of obscurity, both during and after his life, Sanyu is today regarded as one of the most significant and earliest Chinese modernists.

Sanyu departed China for France in 1921, joining the first wave of Chinese artists to study overseas on a government-sponsored programme. After a brief stint in Berlin, he settled permanently in Paris in 1923, where he readily integrated himself into the city's avantgarde scene. While he befriended European artists, notably Alberto Giacometti, he also continued to maintain ties with fellow Parisian-Chinese artists and was a member of the Heavenly Dog Society. A short-lived association in the early 1920s, the Society had been founded by Chinese intellectuals in Europe to promote the introduction of realism into traditional Chinese art, an opinion that greatly differed from the celebration of Impressionism by Shanghai's Heavenly Horse Society.

During this period, Sanyu studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse, regularly exhibited in local salons, and began to experiment with incorporating Western techniques into traditional Chinese art. Working primarily in ink, he favoured the female nude, rendering figures with what poet Xu Zhimo described as 'cosmically grand legs'.

At his most prolific in the 1930s and 1940s, Sanyu painted still lifes of flowers and fruits with a palette of mainly pink, black and white. Having shifted from ink to oil in 1929, he deployed traditional Chinese techniques such as the feibai ('flying white') technique—which leaves the marks of the widening brush hairs visible—and the use of a scratch tool. In paintings such as Marriage Bouquet or Basket of Flowers, both completed in the 1930s, the outlines or details of flowers have been scraped into the paint, demonstrating Sanyu's attempt to merge the Western medium of oil with Chinese traditions. White Peonies and Four Ponies, another painting from the same decade, features four Han dynasty-style horses whose lines the painter has delineated with a scratch tool.

Despite Sanyu's remarkable integration of Chinese and Western traditions, and his characteristic use of saturated colours and thick outlines that would earn him the posthumous nickname 'Chinese Matisse', the painter achieved little success during his life. Sanyu seems to have preferred to give away his paintings rather than sell them, perhaps because he had a reliable source of income from his affluent family back home. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, however, he was compelled to find a way to support himself. Henri-Pierre Roché, the art dealer with whom the painter would work for three years and who also collected Braque, Duchamp, Picasso and Modigliani, encouraged Sanyu to explore oil painting and printmaking. In the 1930s, Sanyu was the first Chinese artist to engage with Western intaglio; despite his innovations, however, he continued to suffer from poverty and obscurity.

Later in life, Sanyu began to paint more explicitly Chinese motifs. Cats and Birds, shown at Salon des Independents in 1955, depicts a bird and its nest on a barren plant, a scene witnessed by the cat below. On the Ming planter, Sanyu wrote a poem by Song dynasty scholar Chen Yi. Similarly, Still Life of Flowering and Fruit Plant with a Green Ground, painted between 1950 and 1965, is imbued with Chinese symbols of prosperity, happiness and longevity. In light of Sanyu's circumstances—coming from a wealthy Chinese family but later living in destitute conditions—perhaps the painting reflects upon a time now in the past. A sense of loneliness is also found in his later landscapes, featuring an animal in the vast expanse of nature, as in Elephant from the 1960s.

Sanyu died from a gas leak accident in 1966 and remained largely forgotten in art history until Taiwanese art dealers rediscovered his work in the 1980s. Numerous galleries and museums in Taiwan have since organised exhibitions of his legacy, including the National Museum of History, Eslite Gallery, Lin & Lin Gallery and Tina Keng Gallery. In 2014, his paintings were also included in Legacy of 20th-Century Chinese Masters, an exhibition jointly organised by the Hong Kong Museum of Art; the Museum of the Asian Arts, Paris; the Musée Guimet, Paris; and the Musée Cernuschi, Paris.

Biography by Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2018
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Featured Artworks

Nude II by Sanyu contemporary artwork
SanyuNude II Drawing on paper
45 x 29 cm
Eslite Gallery
Nude by Sanyu contemporary artwork
SanyuNude, 2018 Print
16.6 x 9.8 cm
Eslite Gallery
Flowers in a Beaker 瓶菊 by Sanyu contemporary artwork
SanyuFlowers in a Beaker 瓶菊, 1930s Oil on board
17 x 15 cm
Eslite Gallery
Basket of Flowers by Sanyu contemporary artwork
SanyuBasket of Flowers, 1931 Oil on canvas
31 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches
White Roses by Sanyu contemporary artwork
SanyuWhite Roses, c. 1930 Oil on canvas
16 1/8 x 13 inches
Nude by Sanyu contemporary artwork
SanyuNude, c. 1930 Oil on canvas
27 x 46 cm
Lin & Lin Gallery
Leopard by Sanyu contemporary artwork
SanyuLeopard, 1931 Oil on canvas
93 x 116 cm
de Sarthe
Sparrows on a Line by Sanyu contemporary artwork
SanyuSparrows on a Line, 1931 Oil on canvas
50 x 80 cm
de Sarthe

Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Cézanne, Morandi, and Sanyu at Gagosian, Hong Kong
26 March–11 May 2019 Group Exhibition Cézanne, Morandi, and Sanyu Gagosian, Hong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Sanyu, An Intimate View: Sanyu's Small Masterpieces at Eslite Gallery, Taipei
3 March–1 April 2018 Sanyu An Intimate View: Sanyu's Small Masterpieces Eslite Gallery, Taipei

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

Art Basel in Hong Kong 2019: A Post-mortem Ocula Report Art Basel in Hong Kong 2019: A Post-mortem 6 Apr 2019 : Diana d’Arenberg for Ocula

Although Art Basel in Hong Kong is the youngest of the Art Basel fairs, and a relative newcomer to the international art fair circuit, it has now become a major attraction for collectors and galleries from around the world. The seventh edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong saw thousands of art courtesans and benefactors kick off the week with a string...

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Sanyu: An Introduction to a Modern Master Ocula Report Sanyu: An Introduction to a Modern Master 11 May 2018 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

Sanyu's Still Life of Flowering and Fruit Plant with a Green Ground, an oil on masonite panel dated between 1950 and 1965, presents a plant brimming with aspirations of wealth, or in the artist's case, memories of it. Painted against a rich olive backdrop, Chinese symbols of good fortune, from peaches to pomegranates, grow from branches amid green...

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