Matthew Wong - New Now New York Wednesday, March 3, 2021 | Phillips
  • A prism of art history, Lotus typifies the emotional charge and painterly dexterity of Matthew Wong’s exquisite landscapes that catapulted the artist to international acclaim during the final years of his all-too-brief career. Rich, brilliant specks of paint litter the surface of the work, evoking the Pointillist technique pioneered by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac—seen here in the form of a lotus flower. Indeed, “Wong can be considered a kind of nouveau Nabi, a descendant of Post-Impressionist painters like Édouard Vuillard and Paul Sérusier,” Eric Sutphin observed in Art in America. “Like his forebears, he synthesizes stylized representations, bright colors, and mystical themes to create rich, evocative scenes. His works, despite their ebullient palette, are frequently tinged with a melancholic yearning.”i Placing past and present in dialogue, Lotus epitomizes Wong’s prescient reimagination of the modernist approach for our era.

    "These paintings are extremely open and vulnerable. But once they lure you in, they leave you alone to explore their chromatic, spatial and psychological complexities." —Roberta Smith

    A self-taught artist, it wasn’t until 2012 that Wong first began to experiment with drawing. “At first I just bought a cheap sketch pad along with a bottle of ink,” Wong said, “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.”ii The artist’s mother recalled that “he would go to libraries and study all the masters—Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse,”iii and participated in Facebook communities of artists who introduced him to new techniques and ideas. Among these online friends included painters Peter Shear and Brian Calvin, as well as the prominent art dealer John Cheim, who even counseled Wong on which oil paint to try. It was through these private studies and intimate conversations that Wong developed the encyclopedic knowledge of art history on display in Lotus.


    In Dialogue with Art History


    Embodying a shared characteristic of Matthew Wong’s finest works, Lotus betrays a deep engagement with the history of art—and specifically with the pictorial language of his Impressionist forebearers. Art history was Wong’s métier and his central theme, and permeated the sophisticated visual idiom he crafted in the landscapes and interiors that comprised his practice. One of Lotus’s salient evocations is to Claude Monet’s definitive body of work: his well over 200 representations of water lilies, some of the most iconic images not only of modernism but of art history overall.

    "[Wong] was the modern day Van Gogh." —Jonas WoodWong and Monet’s sublime depictions of the natural world evince numerous visual affinities, the most remarkable of which is a shared painterly approach composed of impasto-rich brushstrokes that explore opticality and the interrelationship between light and color. The expressionist application of paint in Lotus and Monet’s water lily paintings also similarly give a deceptive look of immediacy; just as Monet, the seeming master of spontaneity, would carefully consider and revisit dozens of canvases over a period of months, Wong meticulously arranged each aspect of his compositions.


    Claude Monet, Blue Waterlilies, circa 1916-1919. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Photo credit: Hervé Lewandowski © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY
    Claude Monet, Blue Waterlilies, circa 1916-1919. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Photo credit: Hervé Lewandowski © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

    Wong’s subject, the lotus, also finds a rapport with the oeuvre of Zhang Daqian, whose career-long exploration of the flower coalesced the history of Chinese “ink-play” with the psychological connotations of Abstract Expressionism. Lotus epitomizes how Wong religiously drew from myriad disparate art historical sources throughout his practice—from Monet to Zhang Daqian, Seurat to Joan Mitchell—to develop an idiosyncratic yet expressive approach that was his alone.


    Unalloyed Pleasures


    Bridging the real and the subliminal, Wong’s landscapes offer highly subjective and transcendent viewing experiences and have a striking ability to touch on everyone’s unique experiences and perceptions. “Mr. Wong made some of the most irresistible paintings I’ve ever encountered,” Roberta Smith expressed, speaking about the first time she saw Wong’s paintings at Frieze Art Fair in 2017, though her response captured the sentiment of art world at large. “It was a visceral experience, like falling for an unforgettable song on first listen. It was deeply nourishing: my life had been improved and I know other people who have had the same reaction. Such relatively unalloyed pleasure is almost as essential as food.”iv

    i Eric Sutphin, “Matthew Wong,” Art in America, June 1, 2018, online.

    ii Matthew Wong, quoted in Neil Genzlinger, “Matthew Wong, Painter on Cusp of Fame, Dies at 35,” The New York Times, October 21, 2019, online.

    iii 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.

    iv Roberta Smith, “A Final Rhapsody in Blue from Matthew Wong,” The New York Times, December 27, 2019, online.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Frank Elbaz, Paris
      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.  

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signed and dated "Wong 2017" [in Chinese] and titled "LOTUS" on the reverse
oil on canvas
60 x 40 in. (152.4 x 101.6 cm)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $1,663,500

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
20th Century & Contemporary Art

New Now

New York Auction 3 March 2021