A floral still life painting by Chinese-French modernist Sanyu from the 1950s will be offered at Christie’s in a modern and contemporary art auction in Hong Kong on May 24. Titled Potted Chrysanthemums, the work will be on public display in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bejing, and Taipei ahead of the sale.
The painting, which depicts a set of pink chrysanthemums stemming from blue branches, one of Sanyu’s signature motifs, is estimated to sell for HKD 78 million–HKD 120 million ($11 million–$15 million). According to Christie’s statement on the sale, it is one of the few late-period still lifes by Sanyu remaining in private hands.
Sanyu painted chrysanthemums in his works over a 20-year period between the 1930s to 1950s, making a total of 133 works featuring the flower as the central subject. These floral still lives have brought some of the artist’s highest prices at auction. The record price for a floral still life by the artist is HKD 191.6 million ($24.7 million), paid during the sale of Chrysanthèmes blanches dans un pot bleu et blanc (White Chrysanthemum in a Blue and White Jardiniere) at Christie’s in July 2020.
The work is being sold by a collector based in Asia, who purchased it at Christie’s in 2014 for HKD $46 million ($6 million), more than double the estimate of HKD 18 million. Prior to that, the work’s first owner, a private French collector, who acquired it directly from Sanyu, held it for more than 60 years before parting with it in 2014.
For years, Sanyu and his French-Chinese postwar counterpart Zao Wou-Ki have led the market share for the marquee Hong Kong auctions. In December, a rare goldfish still life by Sanyu, painted during the 1930s–’40s and formerly held by Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen, sold for $22 million. The result aligns with the modernist’s market ascent over the past decade, seeing values appreciate by staggering margins since the early-mid 2000s. In the same season, Sanyu’s floral still-life from the same era sold for $17.8 million, surpassing its low estimate of HKD 68 million ($8.8 million).