Matthew Wong - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • “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

    Nature’s Church mesmerises in a symphony of texture and colour, conjuring a dreamlike landscape of curling trees, speckled flora, and cobalt-blue water within which auspicious koi fish swim. In the upper right corner two small figures climb towards the twilight-lit pond, their solitary presence within the clearing sparking the curiosity of a graceful swan who approaches to greet them. Rendered in thick staccato impasto harmonising an explosion of dabs, dots, wiggles, and lines that dance and flicker across the entirety of the surface, the work glows with the rhythm of Wong’s brush, conjuring the viewer into a lullaby of poetic nostalgia, and serene melancholy. Painted within the final years of Matthew Wong’s prolific yet short-lived years, Nature’s Church is a superlative example from the artist’s limited oeuvre.

    Detail of the present work



    Wong’s Painterly Journey

    “Mr. Wong made some of the most irresistible paintings I’ve ever encountered. I fell for the patchworks of colour and stippled patterns of his landscapes.”
    — Roberta Smith 


    Wong was born in Toronto in 1984, however with his parents who were involved in the textile business, moved between Canada and Hong Kong every few years before eventually relocating to Hong Kong following his graduation from the University of Michigan in 2007 with a degree in Cultural Anthropology. Three years later Wong earned a Master of Fine Arts in Photography from the City University of Hong Kong, however it was not until 2012 that he pursued his creative interests more seriously. As Wong recalled, ‘at first I just bought a cheap sketch pad along with a bottle of ink and made a mess every day in my bathroom randomly pouring ink onto pages—smashing them together—hoping something interesting was going to come out of it… Pretty soon that was the only activity that sustained me in my daily routine.’

    Wong’s relationship with art became ‘all-encompassing’ i, as when he was not drawing or painting, he was at the Hong Kong Public Library, ‘writing poetry and pouring over art books’ ii, ‘figuring out where [he could] fit into the greater dialogue between artists throughout time.’ i Though never an official student of art history, he developed a remarkable mental database of artists and artworks he admired, added to by his endless scrolling through the digital pages of Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr, and from immersing himself in online conversations with other creatives. 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, forming 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.’ iii


    A Dialogue with Art History 



    Left: Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night over the Rhone, 1888
    Collection of Musée d'Orsay, Paris    
    Right: James Abbot McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket, 1875
    Collection of Detroit Institute of Arts, USA



    Most often critically associated to the art and life of Vincent van Gogh, Wong’s Nature’s Church indeed brings to mind the starry skies and swirling, tactile brushstrokes of his predecessor - in particular, van Gogh’s night paintings created during the final two years of his life which, in a letter to his brother Theo, van Gogh described as being ‘much more alive and richly coloured than the day.’ A belief also held by James Abott McNeill Whistler, as exemplified by his twilight nocturne paintings, Wong too, evokes the celestial quietude of night in the present work. Night-time, for Wong, was a key time to explore the depths of his mind as ‘following the natural path of [his] imagination or watching films in the dark of [his] living room [was] an activity… [he] pursue[d] every night without fail’, explaining ‘it’s inevitable the solitary nature of this pattern seeps into and informs his work.’iv




    Gustav Klimt, Avenue in the Park of Schloss Kammer, 1912
    Collection of Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna



    At the same time, whilst the dreamlike vista populated with swaying birch trees in Nature’s Church further evokes the jewel-toned, luscious scenes of Gustav Klimt—whose kaleidoscopic landscapes dazzle the viewer with reduced spatial depth—Wong’s meticulous, repetitive technique can be considered in regard to the masters of Pointillism, including Henri-Edmond Cross, Georges Seurat, or perhaps more recently, Jennifer Guidi and the hallucinatory infinity nets of Yayoi Kusama (see for example, Lot 25 – Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY-NETS (OPRT) (2004)). But although countless influences can be observed in Nature’s Church and Wong’s wider oeuvre, he melds them with his own meditative ponderings to form a visual language entirely his own. 


    Left: Henri-Edmond Cross, Kap Layet, 1904
    Right: Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY-NETS (OPRT), 2004
    Lot 25 – Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction Evening Sale 
    Estimate HK$ 15,000,000 - 25,000,000 / US$ 1,920,000 - 3,210,000 
    © Yayoi Kusama


    Nature’s Church

    The miniature wanderers are a recuring motif in Wong’s oeuvre, coming and going through the various serpentine paths and gold-flecked meadows that shape the artist’s imaginative dreamscapes, never appearing to quite reach their final destination. Often referred to as ‘pilgrims’ in the titles of similar paintings by Wong that feature kindred figures, the purity of the radiant white outlines of the pair in Nature’s Church indeed accentuate a divine, transcendent quality that is further enhanced by the religious connotations evoked by the work’s title—and by the shimmering, vibrant details reminiscent of the back-lit stained-glass windows prominently displayed in churches. 



    The north rose window of the Chartres Cathedral, France




    A rarer example of Wong’s paintings which more commonly depict a lone figure, or none at all, in Nature’s Church there are two ‘pilgrims’ enveloped by the dazzling night-time forest scene. And whilst they are still alone in this portrayal of Wong’s expansive, nocturnal universe, they journey on together, following after one another as they travel up the winding path toward the top edge.


    "I already possess the superpower I wanted – the ability to paint." 
    — Matthew Wong

    Collector’s Digest

    With a rise to stardom so rapid, it is widely considered as one of the most remarkable of the past half century, Wong’s work has been honoured with inclusion in notable public collections wordwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Dallas Museum of Art; Estée Lauder Collection, New York; and the Aïshti Foundation, Beirut. 

    Continuing the momentum around the artist’s acclaim, the Art Gallery of Ontario is currently hosting the first museum exhibition dedicated to the painter, Matthew Wong: Blue View, which opened on 13 August 2021 and closes on 18 April 2022. This will be followed by the forthcoming retrospective, Matthew Wong, at the Dallas Museum of Art in 2022.

    In December 2020 when Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly auction sold Wong’s painting River at Dusk (2018), it far exceeded its pre-sale estimate range of HK$7,000,000 – 10,000,000, hammering down at HK$37,760,000 plus Premium, establishing the artist’s current world record. More recently in June 2021, Wong’s work Figure in a Night Landscape (2017) was sold by Phillips Hong Kong in association with Poly Auction for HK$36,550,000 against estimates of HK$6,000,000 – 8,000,000, landing Wong’s second top record at auction. 



    Left: Matthew Wong's 1st top auction result, River at Dusk, 2018
    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction on 3 December 2020 for HK$37,760,000    
    © 2021 Matthew Wong Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Right: Matthew Wong's 2nd top auction result, Figure in a Night Landscape, 2017
    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction on 3 December 2020 for HK$36,550,000
    © 2021 Matthew Wong Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York




    i Matthew Wong, quoted in Miss Wong, ‘They are artists: Matthew Wong’, Altermodernists, 29 October 2014, online 
    ii Matthew Wong, ‘Matthew Wong: A behind the scenes approach to contemporary painting’, Studio Critical, 4 November 2013, online
    iii Roberta Smith, ‘A Final Rhapsody in Blue From Matthew Wong’, The New York Times, 27 December 2019, online 
    iv Matthew Wong, quote in Maria Vogel, ‘Matthew Wong reflects on the melancholy of life’, Art of Choice, 15 November 2018, online

    • Provenance

      KARMA, New York
      Private Collection, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • 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

Property from an Important Collection


Nature’s Church

signed, titled and dated '"NATURE'S CHURCH" Wong 2017 [in Chinese]' on the reverse
oil on canvas
91.4 x 61 cm. (35 7/8 x 24 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for HK$9,204,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021