Sanyu, Femme nue sur un tapis (Nude on Tapestry).
Photo: Courtesy of Christie's

Auction of the Week: An Enigmatic Nude by Sanyu Sells for $24 Million

The 1929 canvas surpassed its high estimate, becoming one of the most expensive by the modernist painter, often hailed as the “Chinese Matisse”

The Christie’s Hong Kong autumn auctions proved solid in a rather soft season of sales across the globe. The auction house’s main event, the 20th/21st Century Art evening sale on November 28, garnered $89 million, surpassing the presale low estimate of $73 million.

The leading lot of the sale was an enigmatic nude, Femme nue sur un tapis (Nude on Tapestry), by Chinese-French modernist Sanyu. Bearing an estimate of $13 million to $19 million, the work came from the prestigious Dreyfus Collection in Paris and its appearance on the auction block at Christie’s marked its debut in Asia.

Often hailed as the “Chinese Matisse,” Sanyu painted Femme nue sur un tapis in 1929, a few years after he moved to Paris and began experimenting with the nude as a motif in his drawings. Considered his first major nude painting, it depicts Alice Prin, also known as Kiki de Montparnasse, the doyenne of Paris’s booming bohemian social scene at the time.

Auctioneer Liang-Lin Chen in the packed saleroom auctioning Sanyu’s Femme nue sur un tapis (Nude on Tapestry) during Christie’s 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong. Photo: Courtesy of Christie's

Sanyu’s depiction of Prin, featuring simple calligraphic lines and minimalist planes of color, hammered at $20.6 million, just over the high end of its presale estimate. It sold for a total of $24 million, with buyer’s fees, making it the sixth most expensive work by Sanyu sold at auction. Christie’s Hong Kong has held the artist’s record since 2019, when his Five Nudes sold for $38.8 million.

Despite the many millions fetched by Sanyu’s demure nude, it was Salvo’s nearly neon landscape, Il Mattino (The Morning), that stole the show, quadrupling its pre-sale estimate when it sold for just north of a million dollars. As the first lot of the night, the 1994 canvas got the auction off to a strong start, inspiring a nearly ten-minute bidding war before hammering at $889,845, or $1.1 million, including buyer’s fees.

Sanyu, Femme nue sur un tapis (Nude on Tapestry). Photo: Courtesy of Christie's

Best known for his bright and geometric vistas, Salvo emerged as part of the Arte Povera movement in the 1960s as a conceptual artist. He pivoted back to painting in the 1970s and continued working in Turin until his death in 2015. While he achieved some success in his lifetime, especially within his native Italy, international demand for works by Salvo has been on a sharp rise over the last year. All but one of the artist’s top ten auction records have been set in 2023, according to Artnet’s Price Database.

Additionally, Salvo has been the subject of a solo show at Perrotin Paris in May, as well as part of a joint booth presentation by Kukje and Mazzoleni at Frieze Masters this fall. An exhibition of his more architectural paintings and works on paper is on view at Gladstone Gallery’s Brussels outpost through December 22.

Il Mattino was last seen at auction in 2009 at a Sotheby’s sale in Milan, where it sold for $115,620. Its sale at Christie’s Hong Kong bested the recently set artist record of $841,019 for a 1991 landscape that sold at Christie’s London in October.

Cover: Sanyu, Femme nue sur un tapis (Nude on Tapestry).
Photo: Courtesy of Christie's


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