Matthew Wong - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, November 15, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Dominated by an alluring cadmium red, the landscape in Matthew Wong’s Blue Tree, 2016, verges on the surrealist, featuring only a towering cherry blossom tree in full bloom. A cathedral top door reminiscent of monumental stone buildings frames the enigmatic composition, which opens to an otherworldly space that lies beyond its threshold. The present example comes to auction on the heels of the artist’s acclaimed exhibition Matthew Wong: The Realm of Appearances, currently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and previously at the Dallas Museum of Art. In the years following Wong’s untimely death in 2019, his work has steadily garnered market and institutional recognition. In addition to the show at the MFA, his work is currently on view alongside that of Milton Resnick, who was an important influence on Wong, at the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation, New York. Both exhibitions are accompanied by important new monographs of the artist’s work.


    Blue Tree highlights the astute sensitivity of Wong to his surroundings. The humble composition evokes an interior retreat, looking out at the world from within an enclosed chapel. The aperture of the doorway is a recurrent motif in Wong’s oeuvre, which includes abundant framing devices like doorways, windows, and even openings within foliage. These portals became even more frequent in the later years of his career as his works become focused on solitary, quiet reflections on his surroundings. The present example, painted before Wong shifted to a blue-dominated palette, highlights a bright cherry blossom swaying beyond the archway, a bright beacon that spotlights the delicate impasto brushwork for which Wong is known.


    Vincent van Gogh, Almond Blossom, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, February 1890. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Image: Art Resource, NY 

    The unexpected title, Blue Tree, draws attention to the smallest detail: the bright splashes of azure and cobalt emerging through the dense layers of the tree’s trunk and limbs. The inventive combinations of chartreuse, gold, and red build upon the blue pigment with Fauvist-inspired technique. The influence of artists like André Derain and Henri Matisse and Post-Impressionists like Vincent van Gogh are felt through Wong’s imaginative color choices and loose rendering of flora. The present example recalls van Gogh’s Almond Blossom, 1890, with its delicate, pale pink blossoms atop unfurling branches. The blossoms used across both works flower in early spring symbolize new life. Wong's bold use of red shares the compelling effect of Matisse’s red masterpieces, The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908 and The Red Studio, 1911.


    Blue Tree was painted at the cusp of the artist gaining wider recognition. By 2016 Wong had presented two solo shows in Asia at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Center and Cuiheng Art Museum, Zhongshan, but was still two years away from his first major solo show in New York at Karma. His work was beginning to garner traction through group shows at 1969 Gallery, New York and Karma, Amagansett, and he was exhibiting in two-person shows alongside his close friend Peter Shear. 2016 is when Wong’s mature style began to hit its stride, moving from his earlier works’ tamer palettes to the bold, experimental colors that have brought the artist widespread acclaim. Blue Tree is a breakthrough work from this transitional year, exemplifying Wong’s use of vivacious color and talent in constructing imaginative worlds.

    • Provenance

      Karma, New York
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Phillips, New York, September 30, 2020, lot 1
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Matthew Wong: Blue View, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2021, p. 159 (Karma, Independent Art Fair, Paris, 2016 installation view illustrated)

    • 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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Blue Tree

signed and dated "Wong 2016 [in Chinese]" and titled "BLUE TREE" on the reverse
oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 24 1/8 in. (92.1 x 61.3 cm)
Painted in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $431,800

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 15 November 2023