Sanyu, regarded the Chinese Matisse,
was one of the earliest Chinese artists to study in Paris.
Born in 1895 in Sichuan China, and died in 1966 in his studio in Paris.

Sanyu, born in Sichuan, China in 1895, was among the first group of Chinese artists who, in the excitement of the aftermath of the May Fourth Movement in China, traveled to Europe in the early 1920s to study art. Settling in Paris, Sanyu immediately fell in with the bon amie artistic lifestyle flourishing at that time. Attending classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and frequenting the cafés of Montparnasse, he mingled and exchanged ideas with other young artists from all over the world who, like him, had convened in Paris, inspired by visions of creative expansion. Unlike his Chinese contemporaries, such as Xu Beihong and Lin Fengmian who returned to China and achieved recognition in the art academies, Sanyu chose to remain in Paris, deeply committed to continuing his artistic development. Had he returned, he most probably would have attained the fame and recognition that eluded him during his lifetime. Instead, he died in Paris in 1966 in abject poverty and obscurity.

Immersed in the heady environment of the Paris school in the first half of the last century, Sanyu learned to fuse and integrate elements of his traditional Chinese training with aspects of the new modernist trends. In the course of Sanyu’s artistic career, we witness his metamorphosis from a young, modern Chinese artist to a mature Chinese modernist. The intersecting dynamics he explored and expressed resulted in a hybridization heretofore unseen and Sanyu can be regarded as one of the pivotal pioneers in this period of Chinese art history.

Written by Rita Wong