Matthew Wong - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “His bumpy patterned paintings and abstract configurations put a spell on me.
    Let them do the same to you.”
    — Jerry Saltz 

    Fresh to the market, The Painter captivates with a symphony of texture and rich, warm colour, conjuring a dreamlike landscape of dense rocks, curling brambles and trees. A red sky ablaze with the fire of a setting sun bursts out from a gap in the terrain toward the midpoint of the composition, through jagged framing that mimics the form of a crown. Pouring out from beneath this window is a dappled yellow and green road, which cascades out like oozing honey or hot lava toward the lower right corner, where the titular painter stands. As twilight approaches, the solitary figure raises their paintbrush to delicate details of a brown flower and sun, indicating this is the composition they are working on.


    Detail of the present painting

     The small wanderers are a hallmark of Wong's artistry, meandering in and out of verdant fields and labyrinthine pathways that characterise his fantastical visions. The lone painter in the current piece might be understood as a self-portrait of Wong himself, revealing insight into the artist's consciousness before his tragic passing in October of 2019.


    “I would like my paintings to have something in them people across the spectrum can find things they identify with. I do believe that there is an inherent loneliness or melancholy to much of contemporary life, and on a broader level I feel my work speaks to this quality in addition to being a reflection of my thoughts,
    fascinations and impulses.”
    — Matthew Wong
    Splashed with luscious layers of dabs, dots, wiggles, and lines that undulate across the canvas like a mesmerising melody; Wong's thick, staccato impasto encourages the spectator to submerge into an idyllic reverie of nostalgia and serene melancholy.


     [Left] Georges Seurat, La Luzerne, Saint-Denis, 1884-1885. National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh.
    Image: Scala, Florence / DeAgostini
    [Right] Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees, 1889. Minneapolis Institute of Art.
    Image: Minneapolis Insitute of Art, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

    Born in Toronto in 1984, it was not until Wong was in his late 20s when he purchased a cheap sketchbook and began pouring ink into the pages and moving it about, ‘hoping something interesting would happen out of it… Pretty soon, [it] was the only activity that sustained [Wong] in his daily routine.’ The artist’s mother recalled that ‘he would go to libraries and study all the masters—Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse,’ ii and engaged in Facebook forums of artists who introduced him to new techniques and ideas. These online acquaintances included painters Brian Calvin and Peter Shear, as well as the renowned art dealer John Cheim, who even advised Wong on which oil paint to use. As aptly stated by John Yau, ‘It is remarkable how much art history Matthew Wong was able to internalise in such a brief period.’ iii


    Paul Sérusier, Le Talisman, l'Aven au Bois d'Amour, 1888
    Image: Scala, Florence

    Painting from the soul with none of his compositions planned in advance, Wong began to seamlessly intermix Western and Eastern art historical influences into his practice. And yet, although his work draws favourable comparisons to a range of art historical references—Post-Impressionism, seventeenth-century Qing period ink works, and the Fauvists, to name a few— Wong formed a singular, instantly identifiable aesthetic that prompted The New York Times critic Roberta Smith to dub him as ‘one of the most talented painters of his generation.’ iv


    The Painter was executed in 2016, the same year that he returned to Canada from Hong Kong, where he settled in Edmonton and began making inroads in the American art scene. Just one year later, the Dallas Museum of Art acquired a work by Wong and he landed his breakthrough solo show in New York at KARMA Gallery in 2018.


    Indicative of the artist’s market strength, his top 10 results at auction were all achieved in the past four years. Recently, in October 2022 – 5 February 2023, the Dallas Museum of Art hosted Wong’s first museum retrospective in the United States, Matthew Wong: The Realm of Appearances, on the heels of the painter’s institutional debut, Matthew Wong: Blue View, which took place at the Art Gallery of Ontario from August 2021 to April 2022.


    Work by Wong is now held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Guggenheim Museum; New York; Dallas Museum of Art, Texas; Art Gallery of Ontario; and Aïshti Foundation, Beirut, amongst others.



    i Matthew Wong, quoted in Miss Wong, ‘They are artists: Matthew Wong’, Altermodernists, 29 October 2014, online

    ii Monita (Cheng) Wong, quoted in Neil Genzlinger, ‘Matthew Wong, Painter on Cusp of Fame, Dies at 35,’ The New York Times, October 21, 2019, online

    iii John Yau quoted in exh. cat., Matthew Wong: The New World, Paintings from Los Angeles 2016, New York, 2022, n.p.

    iv Roberta Smith, ‘A Final Rhapsody in Blue From Matthew Wong’, The New York Times, 27 December 2019, online 


    • Provenance

      Karma Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Karma Gallery, Matthew Wong, 22 March - 29 April 2018

    • Artist Biography

      Matthew Wong

      Matthew Wong was a Canadian artist who enjoyed growing acclaim for his lush, dreamlike scenes that play on a rich tradition of art historical precedents. His work depicts the vivid but often melancholy terrain between sleep and wakefulness, lonely landscapes and isolated interiors rendered with a carefree hand and an ebullient palette, yet which contain an ineffable sorrow and a palpable but unnamed longing.  

      Wong spent his childhood between cultures: he was born in Toronto, Canada and at age 7 moved with his family to Hong Kong where he lived until he was 15, at which time the family returned to Canada. Wong began to experiment artistically already well into his adulthood, first with photography, which he pursued at the postgraduate level at the City University of Hong Kong, and then with painting. A self-taught painter, Wong developed his aptitude for the medium by immersing himself in online conversations with other artists and dedicated personal study of the history of art. His paintings attracted almost immediate attention, but Wong tragically passed away in 2019 just as his work was beginning to receive widespread critical praise.  

      View More Works


The Painter

signed, titled and dated '"THE PAINTER" Wong 2016 [in Chinese]' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
50.2 x 60.8 cm. (19 3/4 x 23 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for HK$3,810,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 March 2023