Christie’s to Offer a Rare Masterpiece by Sanyu - Possibly the Large-Scale “Five Nudes” Which Held the Artist’s Previous Auction Record?

This autumn season, Chinese-French painter Sanyu reigned supreme at auction after his last nude painting Nu sold for a record-setting HK$198m (US$25.24m) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. Yet, it’s very likely that this record won’t last long because Christie’s has sent out an invitation for the unveiling of “a rare masterpiece by Sanyu” and it carries "the highest auction estimate for any work to be offered in Asia in 2019". After doing some research on the artist’s auction record, we believe that the painting could be Five Nudes by Sanyu, which caused a huge sensation the last time it appeared at auction.

Nu (1965) by Sanyu just sold at Sotheby’s for a new auction record at HK$198m

Could Five Nudes (1950-1959) by Sanyu be the masterpiece coming to auction at Christie’s?

Measuring 120 x 175cm, Five Nudes was created between 1950 and 1959. It’s the largest currently known female nude oil painting by the artist, and also the one depicting the biggest number of nude women in one single opus. The earliest record of the painting’s provenance traced back to 1966 in Hôtel Drouot, Paris. Since then it was kept in the private hands of several Paris collectors, among them include the legendary dealer and collector Jean-Claude Riedel who made tremendous contribution in promoting Sanyu. In 1977, Riedel organised a Sanyu exhibition in his gallery. Nu was chosen as the cover image of the invitation to the show at the time.

In 1993, Five Nudes was up for auction as the cover lot at Sotheby’s Taipei and was acquired by Taiwanese tycoon Pierre Chen, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Yageo Corporation, for a price within the region of NT$4m (about US$130,000). It became part of the collection of Yageo Foundation.

The painting reappeared in the market again at Ravenel Hong Kong in 2011 and sold for HK$128m (NT$475m/ US$16m). Not only did it break the auction record for Sanyu, but also set the new auction record for the world’s most expensive Chinese oil painting. Five Nudes held the artist’s record for more than eight years until the record was recently replaced by the HK$198m Nu.


Pierre Chan bought Five Nudes in 1993

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso | The Museum of Modern Art

La Danse (I) (early 1909) by Henri Matisse | The Museum of Modern Art

After digging into this season’s offering from various auction houses, the highest estimate so far is HK$200m and up, which was placed in a Qianlong Falangcai pouched-shaped glass vase from Le Cong Tang Collection. The glass vase – formerly belonged to two distinguished collectors: Joseph Lau and Robert Tsao – was sold for HK$207m. From this we can infer the rare masterpiece by Sanyu to be offfered at Christie's is estimated at an amount higher than HK$200m.

Nude is a popular theme in art creation. The great masters of classical and modern Western painting usually liked to depict nudes in reclining or horizontal positions. In contrast with the customary sitting or reclining positions, women depicted in Five Nudes are all standing up. Other noteworthy exceptions include Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso and La Danse (I) (early 1909) by Henri Matisse.

Five Nudes shows Sanyu’s typical depiction of women: big, tall, voluptuous but at the same time tantalizingly casual and nonchalant. Their shapes are slightly distorted to accentuate the lower halves of their bodies, making them ooze with feminine sexuality. This painting also features two other Sanyu’s signature motifs: animals and flowers, which can be found next to the nudes at the bottom of the work. It is a rare painting that incorporated with the main subject matters that Sanyu often touched upon throughout his life.

The unveiling of the masterpiece will be held on 17 October at Christie’s gallery in Hong Kong. Is it going to be Five Nudes or other great works by Sanyu? Please stay tuned for more updates!

Sanyu. Five Nudes

Created in: 1950-1959
Signed lower right Yu in Chinese and SANYU in French
Size: 120 x 175 cm

  • Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 1966
  • Y. Bideau, Paris
  • Eric Edwards, Paris
  • Jean-Claude Riedel, Paris
  • Sotheby's sale, Taipei, October 17, 1993, cover and lot 18
  • Former Collection of Yageo Foundation, Taipei
  • Ravenel Hong Kong, 2011 Spring, lot no. 19 (sold for HK$128,320,000)


  • China-Paris, Seven Chinese Painters Who Studied in France, 1918-1960, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, March 26 - June 26, 1988
  • Sanyu, Tamshui Center of Arts and Culture, Taipei, August 18 – September 4, 1994
  • Madonna Meets Mao, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Dresden, October 31, 2008 - January 11, 2009
  • Treasures of the Century - Masters of 20th Century Chinese Art, Hong Kong Convention Centre, Hong Kong, October 2-7, 2010