Matthew Wong - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Matthew Wong’s meditative First Snow, 2018, comes from the artist’s series, Blue, 2017-2019, painted in the last year of his life. In this body of work Wong examined the “blueness of blue,” painting hued nocturnal and dusk scenes in both a formal and metaphoric endeavor exploring memory and solitude.i Many of the works from Blue were first shown in the eponymous exhibition held at Karma, New York in 2019. Planned in detail by the artist before his untimely death, the exhibition opened as scheduled just one month later, with no works available for sale. The present work is amongst extremely few from the artist’s final series to have ever come to auction.


     “Mr. Wong made some of the most irresistible paintings I’ve ever encountered... 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.”
    —Roberta Smith

    Widely hailed by critics and curators, Wong’s Blue works were painted during the years the artist worked in Edmonton, having returned from Hong Kong and Zhongshan to his native Canada in 2016. Only 99 miles from the Arctic Circle, Edmonton was viewed by the artist as a place where he lived a “fairly reclusive life," bound to the pace of the city’s elongated nights and winters. Describing his work at this time, Wong stated: “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,” and it is in this context that the title First Snow acknowledges the arrival of the particularly introspective season.ii


    Alex Katz, Rain, 1989. Collection of the Albertina Museum, Vienna. Artwork: © 2023 Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Utilizing the open window as both an aperture and a framing device, First Snow contrasts interior and exterior. It is distinctive of the Blue series, in which many of the works depict portals such as windows, doors and mirrors. The luminous teal drapery is painted with an economy of form, integrating the reflection of evening light into consolidated, confident brushwork. Through the window, delicate snow is rendered with pointillist-like impasto. Utilizing a reduced color palette of proximal blues and working both from memory and observation, Wong encapsulates the dreamy imaginary and acute visualization associated with the solitary state. Portraying the frigid nighttime scene from a comfortable interior, Wong captures the introspection of both the evening and the winter in a mode reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s interiors. Witnessing the gentle fall of snow under the subtle gradations of nighttime light, the work also recalls the likes of Lois Dodd, as in her Cloud Formations and Moon, 1997 or Alex Katz’s Rain, 1989. As with the best of Wong’s work, First Snow has an oneiric quality that is derived from its hazy rendering and precise use of color. It is a beautiful and moving insight into the final years of Wong’s practice.



    Collector’s Digest


    • His institutional debut, Matthew Wong: Blue View, took place at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto from August 2021 to April 2022. He was the subject of a retrospective at the Dallas Museum of Art, Matthew Wong: The Realm of Appearances from October 16, 2022 – February 5, 2023.

    • A forthcoming exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam will pair Wong’s work with Van Gogh’s.

    • Wong’s works reside in notable public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York; Dallas Museum of Art; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Estée Lauder Collection, New York; and the Aïshti Foundation, Beirut.



    Matthew Wong, Blue, Karma, New York, 2021, press release, online

    ii Matthew Wong in Julian Cox, ed., Matthew Wong: Blue View, New York, 2021, p. 22

    • Provenance

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

    • Literature

      Julian Cox, Nancy Spector and Winnie Wong, eds., Matthew Wong: Blue View, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2021, pp. 121, 162 (illustrated, p. 121)
      Matthew Wong, Matthew Wong: Blue, exh. cat., Karma, New York, 2019, pp. 102, 103 (illustrated, p. 103)

    • 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


First Snow

signed, titled and dated ""FIRST SNOW" Wong 2018 [in Chinese]" on the reverse
oil on canvas
16 x 12 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $609,600

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023