the artistic freedom that reigned in Paris opened up new prospects for the artist. These studies developed through a whole range of brilliant sketches which, in tune with traditional Chinese painting, put the accent on the «subjective use of lines to express the subject’s appearance and spirit» instead of merely reproducing the subject’s outward form. While the artist’s first watercolours reveal a delicate combination of the line and modelling of the figure, his ink drawings evoke the purity of Chinese calligraphy. Sanyu began to truly assert his personal style when he changed over to oils. In a few precise and skilful lines, he rendered the soul of the subject before him, going far beyond its appearance alone. The recurrent presence of the single eye, like an allusion to the subject’s openness towards the world, epitomised the artist’s talent. Sanyu seemed to reject any idea of real perspective in painting. However, the champion of Picasso succeeded in suggesting volume in a highly original way through his luminous touch and delicate play on shades of ivory. In this astonishing combination of pure line with the presence of the pictorial substance, inspired by two cultures, the artist found his own truth halfway between his native land and his adopted country. In 2004, the Musée Guimet staged an exhibition of Sanyu’s nudes, appropriately entitled L’écriture du corps (The Language of the Body).
impression heightened by the violent contrast achieved through the proportion of the lines. The extreme simplification of these lines focuses the viewer’s attention on the powerful internal feelings imbuing these works, whether pride, solitude joy or sadness. The Roaring Twenties attracted many artists to Paris from all over the world: Amedeo Modigliani from Italy, Marc Chagall from Russia, Moïse Kisling from Poland, and Tsuguharu Foujita from Japan. The Paris School distilled all the period’s new ideas. This rich artistic atmosphere was extremely productive: Sanyu formed ties with Modigliani, Man Ray, Brancusi, Matisse and Picasso, and gradually became one of the leading representatives of this school himself. While some like Foujita – a hard worker, but also a socialite – endeavoured to promote their work, the more unobtrusive Sanyu was far more interested in developing excellence in his technique, and in transcribing the simplicity of feelings through an increasingly pure, clear line. A number of themes stand out in Sanyu’s work as a whole: animals, flowers and the nude. It is extremely clear that the artist focused interest on depicting the nude, which played a central role in his work throughout his life. While the portrayal of nudes from life was still a delicate subject in China at the beginning of the 20th century,
Sanyu, Calligraphie Chinoise.