The Leading Independent French Auction House Aguttes Presents Sanyu’s 'Flowers' and Lin Fengmian's 'Chinese Lady'

On 11 March, French auction house Aguttes is going to present a meticulously curated sale Paintings of Asia, Major Works, featuring works by some of the most sought-after artists. Top lots of the sale are Sanyu’s Potted Peonies in a Blue and White Jardiniere (1950s) and Lin Fengmian’s Femme au miroir. Let's take a look at some of the highlights from the sale.

Potted Peonies in a Blue and White Jardiniere is a masterpiece created by Sanyu in the 1950s. Flowers is one of the artist’s signature motifs throughout the course of his career. The work was acquired directly from the artist by Comtesse Matilde Locatelli and thus by descent. It was acquired by a Spanish private collector on 14 April 1990 and remained in the collection since then. The present sale offers a rare opportunity for us to look at this great painting, which has been kept in the private hands for about 70 years.

© Aguttes

Sanyu (1901-1966). Potted Peonies in a Blue and White Jardiniere
Oil on hardboard, signed lower right

Lot no.: 1
Created in: 1950
Size: 109.8 x 79.8 cm


  • Collection Comtesse Matilde Locatelli, Calle Recoletos, 13, Madrid, Spain. Acquired directly from the artist.
  • Collection Xavier Regas Pages in Barcelone on 18 May 1971. By descent, offered by the latter.
  • Private collection, Spain. Acquired from the latter on 14 April 1990.
  • Private collection

Bibliography: Sanyu, catalogue raisonné : oil paintings. Rita Wong. Lin & Keng Art Publications, 2001 p262, n°148 repr. et p 264, n°150 (pour des oeuvres en rapport)

Estimate: €2,500,000 - 3,500,000

Sanyu, born in a province of Sichuan, was one of the first Chinese artists to visit Europe in the early 1920s. When he moved to Paris, he was captivated by the incandescent art scene. He attended classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and became a regular visitor to the cafés of Montparnasse. A brilliant artist with an inquisitive mind, he formed connections with numerous artists and figures of his time. The patron and collector Henri-Pierre Roché supported him for a while, introducing him to Picasso, Matisse, Foujita and Man Ray. Within the environment of the Paris School, he learned to combine aspects of his traditional Chinese education with the foundations of Western modernism. The distinctive feature of the style he developed was this union of two cultures, its essence lying between Eastern serenity and Western aesthetics.

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Unlike his contemporaries Xu Beihong and Lin Fengmian, who decided to return to China and rapidly saw their ground-breaking work hailed and recognised, Sanyu remained in Paris to continue his artistic quest, and eventually died in France in 1966. Although his work was misunderstood and known to very few during his lifetime, the intercultural dynamics he explored and this form of hybridisation, which was totally new at the time, undoubtedly made him a pivotal artist with a key role in the history of Chinese art.

His work was gradually rediscovered in the late twentieth century, and a number of international retrospectives were dedicated to him. Today, Sanyu’s work has finally been acclaimed by the art world.

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As regards Sanyu, in addition to the watercolours and ink drawings it regularly offers for sale, Aguttes was chosen in 2015 by two independent private collectors, both new customers, to sell their respective Sanyu paintings: Deux gros hortensias roses, dans un vase blanc acquired in 1960 and Fleurs dans un vase portant une inscription, bought in 1970. This twofold sale was a great success, when Aguttes set European 12 records of over €4 million including tax for each work. A few months later, the painting Académie de dos was entrusted to it by a third party, fetching €1.53 million. In 2017, a new private customer chose Aguttes to sell Pot de fleurs ou Pivoines, which was knocked down for €8 million including tax: a European record for the artist.

Today, yet another painting is being offered to international collectors. Coming from a private collection assembled in the late 1930s and passed down through the family since then, Fleurs en pot dans une jardinière bleue et blanche sur une table bleue will be presented for sale in Paris on 11 March 2020.

A masterpiece forgotten for 70 years, this is a major work by the artist that forcefully reveals his innovative talent.

© Aguttes

Lin Fengmian (1900-1991). Woman with a Mirror
Ink and color on silk, signed and stamped by the artist lower left

Lot no.: 2
Size: 67.5 x 65.5cm


  • Sale Schuler Auktionen, Zurich, June 17, 2010

Private collection, Paris
Estimate: €250,000 - 350,000

© Aguttes

Born in 1900 in Guangdong province in China, Ling Fengmian wanted to become a painter from an early age. In 1918, he entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, then the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris the following year. On his return to China in 1926, he became president of the Beijing National Academy of Arts. In 1928, he founded the Hangzhou Academy of Arts with Cai Yuanpei. He was considered the father of Chinese modernity, with students who included Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki. He used Western techniques like watercolours and oils to achieve effects of transparency, and used square formats, very different from the traditional formats found in Chinese painting.

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This Woman with a Mirror is characteristic of the way Ling Fengmian depicted women between the 1950s and early 1960s. It reflects the Western qualities that imbued his work, particularly in the shape of the face, where the influence of Modigliani’s portraits is discernible.

This type of woman’s portrait invariably featured a flower in a vase or a ceramic bowl. The diaphanous feel of the petals and the transparency of the white garment are achieved through the light, skilful application of the paint. Black and blue tones highlighted with white in the background of the work, where a few hazy red lines suggest architecture, set the figure of this young woman in an indeterminate space that immerses the viewer in a sense of reverie and contemplation.

© Aguttes

Nguyen Duc Nung (1914-1983). Girl with Flower Basket
Ink and color on silk, signed and dated lower left

Lot no.: 3
Created in: 1936
Size: 45 x 62 cm
Private collection, Paris
Estimate: €20,000 - 30,000

© Aguttes

Mai Trung Thu (1906-1980). Joy of Living II
Ink and color on silk, signed and dated lower left. In its original frame made by the artist

Lot no.: 12
Created in: 1963
Size: 35 x 95 cm
Private collection, Paris (acquired from the artist and kept since)
Estimate: €100,000 - 150,000

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© Aguttes

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Mai Trung Thu, known as Mai Thu, was a Vietnamese painter born in 1906 to a prominent Tonkin family; his father, Mai Trung Cat, was governor of Bac Ninh. After studying at the French lycée in Hanoi, in 1925 Mai Thu became one of the first students to enter the Fine Arts school of Indochina run by Victor Tardieu. During his time there, he became interested in painting scenes of Vietnamese rural life.

During the 1930s, he taught at the Quoc Hoc high school for the gifted in Hue: a period when he created numerous works featuring the women of Hue and landscapes around the Perfume River. He travelled extensively in Europe and the United States. In 1937, he went to France for the International Decorative Arts Exhibition with two friends he had met during his studies: Le Pho and Vu Cao Dam. Although he decided not to return to Asia, his inspiration remained in the East, since he never tired of painting Vietnamese women, children, landscapes and temples.

The work shown here is highly appealing for its liveliness and the multitude of characters it portrays. Many of Mai Thu’s compositions feature a very small number of characters in a refined setting. Here, with characteristic precision, he depicts a swarm of children in a variety of spontaneous attitudes – running around, picking flowers, playing marbles – with a wealth of different expressions. Some of them, with more passive attitudes intimating that they are happier chatting or daydreaming, are relaxing on the stairs.

The rhythmic depiction of colours and forms and the treatment of space and move­ment give this scene a unique character. The painter’s confident line brings out the subtle nuances of the composition’s lively, shimmering palette.

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Henry Emile Vollet (1861-1945). Commemoration to the Stele of a Scholar (Tonkin)
Oil on canvas, signed lower left

Lot no.: 8
Size: 70 x 85 cm

  • Sale Tajan, Paris, January 26, 2000
  • Private collection, Paris

Du Fleuve rouge au Mékong : visions du Viet Nam,Musée Cernuschi, Paris, September 20, 2012 - January 27, 2013

Shimizu Christine (dir.), Du Fleuve rouge au Mékong : visions du Viet Nam, Musée Cernuschi, Paris, 20 septembre 2012 - 27 janvier 2013, p.25

Estimate: €10,000 - 15,000

© Aguttes

Vu Cao Dam (1908-2000). Maternity
Ink and color on silk, signed lower right

Lot no.: 6
Created in:  circa 1938 - 1940
Size: 65 x 49.5 cm


  • Acquired from the artist
  • Collection Comtesse Matilde Locatelli, Paris before 1942 then Calle Recoletos, 13 in Madrid, Spain, thus by descent
  • Private collection, France

Estimate: €80,000 - 120,000

Vu Cao Dam was born on 8 January 1908 in Hanoi to a well-off Catholic family. The fifth of fourteen children, the artist was influenced by French culture from a very young age, as his father, Vu Dinh Thi (1864- 1930), an erudite scholar, had an in-depth knowledge of French. He was sent to Paris by the government for the Universal Exhibition of 1889, where he was enchanted by the French lifestyle.

In 1926, Vu Cao Dam entered the Hanoi School of Fine Arts, where he studied for five years. Here he took classes in drawing, painting and sculpture under the French painter Victor Tardieu, the school’s founder, and Joseph Inguimberty.

After graduating from the school in 1931, Vu Cao Dam received a grant that took him to France to continue his studies. This journey marked a turning point in his career. When he was invited to exhibit his sculptures at the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition, he decided to live in France permanently. He then entered the Far East section of the École du Louvre, where he got to know and study great European masterpieces. He was particularly inspired by the works of Renoir, Van Gogh, Bonnard and Matisse, and those of Rodin, Despiau and Giacometti. He was also impressed by the Western avant-gardes like the Fauves and the Paris School, who had a considerable influence on his work. Meanwhile, the Colonial Exhibition led to numerous commissions.

Painting on silk was one of the techniques regularly used by Vu Cao Dam. He painted this Mother and Child in the late 1930s; it is particularly interesting because of its format and date. This masterpiece of finesse and delicacy is rendered in soft, pure colours that accentuate the poetic aspect of the silk painting. Vu Cao Dam depicts a young woman in traditional dress sitting in a luxuriant landscape, protecting a young child in her arms. The mother’s white turban attracts and captures the light like a halo. Nothing seems to disturb the serenity of this scene, which reflects all the artist’s skill in conveying the emotions of his subjects.

© Aguttes

Vu Cao Dam (1908-2000). Bust of a Girl
Black patina bronze, signed on the base on the right side

Lot no.: 11
Size: 37 x 15.8 x 19 cm
Private collection, Paris


  • International Colonial Exhibition in Paris, 1931
  • Musée du Quai Branly, on deposit at the Musée des 1930s, Boulogne-Billancourt
  • From the Red River to the Mekong: Visions of Viet Nam, Cernuschi Museum, Paris, September 20, 2012 - January 27, 2013

Shimizu Christine (dir.), From the Red River to the Mekong: visions du Viet Nam, Musée Cernuschi, Paris, September 20, 2012 - January 27, 2013, p.98-99

Estimate: €40,000 - 60,000

Very soon, as a student at the Hanoi School of Fine Arts, the young Vu Cao Dam was recognised as an exceptional exponent of sculpture. He created a number of bronzes, including a bust of Victor Tardieu, later donated to the Indochina School of Fine Arts by the Tardieu family.

At the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition, the artist exhibited the Bust of a young girl, now in the Musée du quai Branly. Similar to the latter but with a darker patina, the work presented here comes from a private Parisian collection.

© Aguttes

Le Pho (1907-2001). Bouquet of flowers
Oil on canvas, signed lower right

Lot no.: 13
Size: 46 x 61.5 cm
Private collection, Paris (acquired from the artist and kept since)

Estimate: €20,000 - 30,000

Considered one of the leading figures in modern Vietnamese art, Le Pho was born in 1907 in Ha Tay province into a respected mandarin family. His father was the last viceroy of Tonkin. With his evident predi­lection for painting and drawing, he was one of the first students to enter the Indo­china School of Fine Arts in 1925. He was soon noticed by the director and founder of the school, Victor Tardieu, with whom he maintained a close relationship throughout his life. Le Pho brilliantly assimilated all he learned from his teachers. The school fostered Vietnamese artistic traditions like painting on silk and lacquering, while intro­ducing this new generation of artists to Western history and artistic techniques. The influence of the Italian Primitives and the Impressionists is easily sensed in Le Pho’s work.

In 1931, he travelled to France to show work at the International Colonial Exhibition. He decided to stay in Paris for a year to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and then made several journeys to Europe. He returned to Vietnam in 1933 and taught at the Indochina School of Fine Arts. He then decided to move permanently to France in 1937, and soon established a glowing reputation.

Floral compositions in oils are prominent in Le Pho’s work, and synthesise the artist’s heritage of decorative Vietnamese canons and Western pictorial aesthetics. The Bouquet de Fleurs here clearly shows the influence of the Impressionists. Liberated by this medium, the artist expresses himself more spontaneously and intuitively, while maintaining a keen precision. The lively palette of the orange background brings out the intensified motif of the delicate flower petals, giving the work a particularly harmonious and poetic feel.

© Aguttes

Mai Trung Thu (1906-1980). Bouquet of flowers
Ink and color on silk, signed and dated lower right. In its original frame made by the artist

Lot no.: 14
Created in: 1959
Size:  57.5 x 41.7 cm
Provenance: Private collection, Normandy
Estimate: €30,000 - 50,000

Aguttes |11 March 2020, Paintings of Asia, Major Works

24 February 2020 (Monday) to 3 March 2020 (Thursday) |10am - 1pm,2pm - 6pm (except Fri afternoon and weekends)

Official exhibition dates & address
9-10 March 2020|11am - 6pm
11 March 2020|11am - 12pm

Address: Paris, Drouot salle 2 : 9, rue Drouot

11 March 2020 (Wednesday)|2:30pm (local time)
Address: Drouot salle, Drouot-Richelieu, 9, rue Drouot 75009 Paris


Metro |Line、8、9、12. Richelieu Drouot stop (line 8, 9), Le Peletier stop (line 7), Notre-Damede Lorette (line 12)
Bus|line 20、39、42、48、67、74、85
24-hour Car park|12, rue Chauchat - 75009 Paris

Manager, Asian Painting Department|Charlotte Reynier-Aguttes
+33 (0)1 41 92 06 49

Expert: Charlotte Reynier-Aguttes

Claude Aguttes
Sophie Perrine

Aguttes is the fourth largest French auction house and the first one to be independent, with no outside shareholders. Founded in 1974 by Claude Aguttes and now run with two of his daughters—Philippine Dupré la Tour and Charlotte Reynier-Aguttes—the auction house has a team of 60 people. In 2018 the company passed the symbolic €50-million auction milestone, a result never before achieved by an independent auction house in France. In 2019, Aguttes totalled €66 million.

With an international saleroom located in western Paris and representative offices in Brussels, Lyon and Aix-en-Provence, Aguttes stands out for its personalised service and responsiveness. The auction house is positioned on the valuation and auction of exceptional works and major French collections. In 2019, thanks to its international buyers (who amount to 70% of all buyers), it has held 76 auctions above €100,000, 4 sales of million-euro lots, and 15 world records.

Aguttes is positioned as the alternative to art market leaders in its 15 specialised departments: Asian painters, Old Masters Paintings & Drawings, Asian art, Russian Art, Classic Cars, Jewellery & Fine Pearls, Collector Watches, Rare Books & Manuscripts, Contemporary, Modern & Impressionist Art, Design, Furniture & Decorative Art, Wine & Spirits. If you’re looking to sell, give us a call!