Sanyu 常玉 was born in Nanchong, Sichuan Province, on 14 October 1901. His family owned one of the largest silk-weaving mills in Sichuan, the Dehe Silk Factory, which was managed by Sanyu's eldest brother Chang Junmin. The business was so successful that Junmin earned the accolade Millionaire Chang of Nanchong and the annals of the city of Nanchong record and applaud his accomplishments. Thirty-seven years older than Sanyu, Junmin doted on his younger brother and, recognizing his interest and talent in art, spared little to support and encourage all his artistic endeavors. The family's wealth allowed Sanyu to be schooled at home, which included calligraphy lessons with the Sichuan calligrapher Zhao Xi (1877–1938) and painting lessons with his father, known in Nanchong for his skill in painting lions and horses.
As a young student, Sanyu traveled to France under a government-sponsored work-study program. Although it is uncertain whether Sanyu participated in this program, his decision to make France his destination in 1921 was no doubt inspired by the migrating wave of art students, such as Xu Beihong 徐悲鸿 and his partner Jiang Biwei with whom Sanyu became close friends. Xu and Jiang, who had arrived a year before Sanyu, were already finding life in the City of Light too costly for their meager income and decided to move to Berlin where living was cheaper. Sanyu, with no set agenda in Paris and unfettered by financial concerns, decided to go along with them to Berlin. During this time, Sanyu formed friendships with other Chinese artists and writers, but instead of making art, they formed a culinary club, gathering daily to plan and prepare gastronomic specialties of their hometowns and having a good time. Only two works by Sanyu, Peonies and Landscape with Willow Trees, both painted in traditional brush and ink style, survive, further attesting to the lack of artistic activity during this period.
Sanyu returned to Paris in 1923. While most of the Chinese art students aspired to enroll in the esteemed École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Sanyu preferred the less academic environment of the Académie de la Grande Chaumière 大茅房. Here, Sanyu plunged into what to him was the exotic world of nude drawing. One can imagine the excitement the young Sanyu must have felt being in a studio where nude models, forbidden at home, posed at arm's reach. In this free and uninhibited environment, he could experiment with Western sketching techniques to explore and express the lines of the human form. Sanyu’s early works in Paris comprise exclusively ink and pencil drawings of nudes and figures, of which over 2000 examples survive today.
Sanyu’s foundation in Chinese calligraphy duiring his youth spurred him to create many nude drawings in Chinese ink and brush. The trained calligraphic stroke, with its varying innuendos, afforded Sanyu a unique chance to delineate the human body, not so much in terms of its anatomy but more as a means of expressing the beauty and sensitivity of a flowing line. With only a few strokes, relying on the fluidity and innate qualities of brush and ink, he was able to capture the essence of his subject.
He did not get as famous as his compatriots in those times and livelihood was affected. During an opportune time in 1963, when the then Taiwan Education minister, Mr. Huang Jilu invited him to do a solo exhibition in Taiwan, he gladly accepted and dispatched 49 paintings of various sizes to Taiwan. Considering the number of paintings he made between 1950s to 1966 when he passed away, it is a very small number compared to days when he was more prolific when Mr. Roche, was his marketing partner.
He did not made it to Taiwan as he was found dead in his apartment due to gas poisoning.
A genius artist who is way ahead of his time. Just like an unpolished diamond, finally, he shines far and bright.....Read moreShow less