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Sanyu’s Leopard Rose

Sanyu’s Leopard Rose

His life

Sanyu Leopard Rose . Sanyu was a Chinese-French artist who was born in 1901 in Nanchong, China. He was home-schooled and was taught painting by his father. His family recognized his painting talent and allowed him to move to Paris to pursue his studies. He moved to Berlin briefly after which he returned to France and enrolled to Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. Here he drew his first nudes.

His work combined the grace and simplicity common in Chinese paintings and a blend of minimalism with modern spatial integrity, characterized by the works of French artist Henri Matisse.

Sanyu is now regarded as a pioneer of Chinese Modern Art.

Leopard Rose

Sanyu’s paintings mainly consisted of women, flowers, and animals. All his paintings were beautiful but they carried different meanings. Women paintings probably showed his affection for the opposite sex while the flower paintings represented his culture. His animal paintings were perhaps the most important since they give us a glimpse into the mind of this talented artist. Sanyu began to paint animals when he got older and wiser.

Sanyu was in constant pursuit of simplicity. He was concerned with delivering his work in the simplest manner possible. His goal was that anyone could relate to his paintings. One would probably expect that the quality of his paintings suffered due to his such for simplicity. What occurred was the exact opposite; his paintings continued to grow in quality.

Leopard Rose

Leopard rose shows a panther lying in an expansive plane. The canvas is divided in the middle perhaps to divide the land and the sky. It was drawn in a time of turmoil in the world and in Sanyu’s life. He had just experienced and survived two bombing raids in Paris. He had then moved to New York and had stayed there for two years. His home was a place that he missed dearly and yet he could not return. He had adjusted to his new home but it never felt the same. These experiences led Sanyu to see the world from a different point of view. That the world did not revolve around one man. That man’s life could be likened to a mayfly’s brief spell on the earth.

His newfound point of view was depicted in his paintings. In the 1930’s, before his life-changing experiences, the leopard was painted in a more colorful environment. In his later paintings, for example, Leopard Rose, the leopard is between two equal realities, probably heaven and earth. However, the leopard is not in despair. It seems like it’s at ease; it gives off a playful vibe. It has accepted reality and it shows no need to be saddened by what it can’t change.

This probably shows the mindset of Sanyu at the time. He desired a different life than that which was on offer. He could, however, not do anything about it and so he had to accept and try to enjoy it. Furthermore, it shows a disconnect with the material things in life and instead choosing to focus on the spiritual.

Others, like the scholar Leslie Jones, suggest that the painting may have been depicting Sanyu’s reality or it was a fantasy of a life that he desired. He went on to conclude that, whichever the case, this painting had a personal story to tell.

Sanyu’s work became available when he died unexpectedly in 1966. French law dictated that, since he didn’t have any relatives to succeed him, the paintings would be sold at public auction. At auction, some paintings were purchased by Jean-Francois Bideau. He had learned of Sanyu’s paintings due to his position at the auctions and had grown to love them. Among the paintings he purchased was the Leopard rose. It then fell to Jean-Claude Riedel before it became available in the international market in 1994.


It perhaps isn’t surprising that his animal paintings are the most rare. This has, in turn, made them very valuable. His oil painting, Leopard, sold at 79.41 million HKD (9.5 million USD) in 2017. This painting was made 10 years after painting Leopard rose. Another painting, Leopard au bord de la rivière, features the same panther as depicted in Leopard Rose. Through these paintings means that we can get an insight into the evolution of Sanyu as a painter. This attaches a high educational value to the paintings.