Is it genius or ‘bananas’?


It was only a month ago that a life drawing class in southwest China stirred huge attention on social media due to the use of nude models.

But now a nude painting by a self-exiled Chinese artist named Sanyu in the 1960s has taken over the headlines in the Chinese art world, after news that it was sold in Hong Kong for HK$198 million ($25.24 million) – topping the price paid for Pablo Picasso’s 1932 work Nude, Green Leaves and Bust in 2010.

Titled Nu, or “female”, the work features a nude woman on an unadorned background, with her legs folded in an L-shape. The brushstroke is bold, while the heavy use of black outline is reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s style, or the type of Chinese calligraphy Sanyu learned in his youth (he died in 1966).

Netizens struggled to fathom the price that had been paid for such an abstraction – “bananas” was a popular comment on social media. However, Sotheby’s – which auctioned it – described its importance as a symbolic liberation of the gendered body from romanticism and eroticism. The fact that the painting is one of the final masterpieces of a rare member of the Paris School from the 1920s, and the cover image of the invitation to Sanyu’s final solo exhibition in 1965, also enhanced its value, the auction house reckoned.

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