Matthew Wong - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • Matthew Wong’s ebullient paintings are prisms of art history. Refracting and synthesizing such diverse reference points as the pointillist landscapes of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, Vincent van Gogh's expressive brushwork and Chinese literati painting, the body of work Wong created within his brief yet profound career reveals a distinct and overarching vision. A striking example of the artist's sought-after landscape paintings, A Dream, 2018, encapsulates the “visionary fusion of form and feeling” which, according to Roberta Smith, has cemented Wong as one of the most talented painters of his generation.

    "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." —Roberta Smith

    As with the landscape painting West, 2017, Dallas Museum of Art, the viewer’s gaze is drawn to a stark tree that activates the pictorial field with a palpable presence. Towering above a single resting figure, it here arches gracefully across a flower-covered shore while a setting sun sets the sky ablaze in bands of vibrant color. It is perhaps above all in Wong’s brushstrokes, overflowing with a sense of urgency and speed, that we recognize a painter making claim to his own place in the annals of art history.


    Prisms of Art History


    A Dream notably belongs to the larger breakthrough body of work that garnered Wong widespread critical acclaim in 2018 following his first solo exhibition at Karma in New York, which included works such as his lauded Realm of Appearances, 2018.  As such, the present work beautifully demonstrates the painterly virtuosity that Wong achieved within just a few years after shifting his focus from photography to drawing and painting. The visual idiom the self-taught artist started developing as of 2012 reveals a deep study of his artistic forebears; as his mother recalled, “he would go to libraries and study all the masters—Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse.” ii Wong also actively sought out advice and feedback from a Facebook community of artists, including Brian Calvin and Peter Shear, as he sought to learn from the art of the past and present with an equal degree of curiosity and confidence.

    "He had a huge appetite for looking and studying art he was interested in...He was the modern day Van Gogh." —Jonas Wood

    Vincent van Gogh, The Red Vineyards near Arles, 1888. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. 

    The present work embodies Wong’s unique take on the grand tradition of landscape painting. While at first glance evoking such precedents as Paul Signac's Antibes (la pinède), 1917, the motif of the figure resting below the tree places A Dream within an art historical lineage of paintings examining the relationship between man and nature. As Eric Sutphin observed, writing in Art in America in 2018, "Wong can be considered a kind of nouveau Nabi, a descendant of Post-Impressionist painters like Édouard Vuillard and Paul Sérusier. 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.”iii

  • Feeling Nature

    "Sometimes I long to paint landscapes...and in all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and soul." —Vincent van Gogh

    A Dream is permeated with an undeniable emotional charge, one that recalls Vincent van Gogh's expressive, oftentimes almost hallucinogenic landscapes in which trees in particular represent a force of life. Wong's works typically feature solitary figures, often diminished in scale within the vastness of nature that harkens back to van Gogh but also the vistas of German Romanticism. His miniature figures appear to stand in both for the artist himself and the viewer, offering an emotional conduit into the pictorial space and inviting existentialist contemplation on the nature of solitude.

    "I do believe that there is an inherent loneliness or melancholy to much of contemporary life ..." —Matthew Wong

    At the same time, however, A Dream also expresses a sense of belonging and communion with nature in a manner that reflects a Daoist conception of the universe, whereby mankind is considered an integral component of the natural world. Mountains, waterfalls and rivers figured as places of refuge, as idealized gateways to immortality and spiritual purification. Wong, who has cited Shitao and Xu Wei as influences, seems to channel this philosophy in A Dream. Drawing on Chinese landscape painting, in which small figures are often peppered throughout vast vistas, Wong abandons naturalistic depiction in favor for stylistic hybridity. Like the Chinese literati before him, he exalts in the expressive nature of his brushwork in pursuit of capturing the emotional essence of his imagined subjects.


    Shitao, Landscape with Figure, circa 1678. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (detail).

    Impossible Painterly Spaces


    Speaking of Wong’s focus on landscapes, Katherine Siboni observed in ArtForum, "Wong harnessed the genre’s conventions as a framework around which to build impossible spaces. Coding earth and trees with nonmimetic, calibrated mark-making, and painting in vibrating Fauvist hues, he created feverish, labyrinthine canvases.” iv Relishing in the materiality of paint, Wong with the present work builds up a pastoral, yet psychologically charged, scene in which multiple modes of painting converge to remarkable effect.

    "What really makes Wong his own painter is his preternatural feel for pattern." —Jerry Saltz

    Impressionistic daubs of impasto co-exist next to willowy lines evocative of Van Gogh’s existential brushstrokes, playfully giving form to the flowers, leaves and grass that animate the scene. Simultaneously, Wong approaches the expanse of the sky as an arena for pure abstraction; while he would sometimes delineate the skies in his painting into clearly defined horizontal bands - in a manner that Roberta Smith likened to a "tribute to the Color Field painter Kenneth Noland”- here he presents the viewer with a field of color gradients reminiscent of the technicolor backgrounds of Ed Ruscha. v


    It is this self-assured hybridity that truly distinguishes Wong's sublime painterly spaces. "What really makes Wong his own painter is his preternatural feel for pattern," Jerry Saltz indeed observed, writing on Wong's 2018 exhibition at Karma. "Every painted area becomes a graphic field that allows us to see changing shapes and luminosities, allowing a consciousness of otherness to settle into the work... Space solidifies, then becomes metamorphosing mirage." vi


    Taking his artistic forebears as a point of departure to learn from, but also transcend, Wong creates dreamlike painterly realms in which color, line and form powerfully coalesce. “These paintings are extremely open and vulnerable,” Roberta Smith put in a nutshell. “But once they lure you in, they leave you alone to explore their chromatic, spatial and psychological complexities.” vii

    i Roberta Smith, “A Final Rhapsody in Blue From Matthew Wong", The New York Times, December 24, 2019, Section C, p. 1 
    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 Eric Sutphin, "Matthew Wong", Art in America, June 1, 2018, online
    iv Katherine Siboni, Matthew Wong, Artforum, November 27, 2019, online
    v Roberta Smith, “A Final Rhapsody in Blue From Matthew Wong", The New York Times, December 24, 2019, Section C, p. 1 
    vi Jerry Saltz, " Losing Myself in the Paintings of Facebook-Educated Matthew Wong", Vulture, April 19, 2018, online
    vii Roberta Smith, “A Final Rhapsody in Blue From Matthew Wong", The New York Times, December 24, 2019, Section C, p. 1

    • Provenance

      KARMA, 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


A Dream

signed in Chinese, titled and dated in Chinese "A DREAM [Wong 2018]" on the reverse
oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $864,900

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020