Sanyu, born under the name of Chang Yu, in Nanchong, is considered one of the leaders of modern Chinese art. Thanks to his mastery of forms and colors, he is sometimes called the Chinese Matisse. As a child Sanyu attends school, takes calligraphy lessons with calligrapher Zhao Xi (Chinese, 1866-1948) from Sichuan Province and his father, known for his ability to paint lions and horses, teaches him painting . Sanyu's family recognizes his talents as an artist and allows him to go to France to pursue his studies. He arrived in Paris in 1921 where he met other Chinese artists such as Xu Beihong (Chinese, 1895-1953). They moved to Berlin, but Sanyu quickly returned to Paris and enrolled at the Academy of La Grande Chaumière where he drew nudes for the first time.
For a while Sanyu was represented by the gallery owner Henri-Pierre Roché, famous for discovering talents such as Marie Laurencin (1885-1956), Georges Braque (1882-1963), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). Roché encourages Sanyu to work engraving and oil painting. In total, Roché will collect 111 paintings and 600 drawings of Sanyu. The artist frequents other artists - both European and Chinese - in Paris, such as Pang Xunqin (Chinese, 1906-1985) and sculptor Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901-1966). The style of Sanyu is characterized by the grace and simplicity of his gesture, techniques acquired after studying Chinese calligraphy. The appropriation of color comes to him from his admiration for Henri Matisse (1869-1954), mixing minimalism with a modernist organization of space in his work.
Sanyu is also close to photographer Robert Frank (American born in 1924) who creates the Sanyu Fellowship at Yale University in the United States to support Chinese art students through the sales of paintings that Sanyu gave him. Sanyu exhibits twice at the Salon d'Automne, 11 times at the Salon des Indépendants, the Salon des Tuileries and the National Gallery of Jeu de Paume. Retrospectives of his exhibitions take place at the National Museum of History in Taipei and at the Musée Guimet in Paris. Sanyu accidentally dies at the age of 65 in his Paris apartment following a gas leak and is buried in the Pantin cemetery in France.