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Stereotype or not, the mercenary reputation of some art merchants — or gallerists, if you prefer — hasn’t much improved in the 60 years since Michel Ragon‘s novel “Trompe-l’oeil” pilloried them as arbitrary taste-makers ready to ruin an artist over a caprice. But they can also be capable of not just unveiling new talent but re-awakening interest in forgotten figures. Such was the role of Jean-Claude Riedel, who after re-discovering the Franco-Chinese denizen of Montparnasse Sanyu in the middle of the 1960s — Sanyu died in 1966 — championed him for the next four decades from his gallery on the rue Guénégaud in Paris. “The importance of Jean-Claude Riedel in the post-humous recognition of Sanyu cannot be over-estimated,” explains Rita Wong, author of the three catalogues raisonnés on the artist. “Of the 257 paintings repertoried in the first volume of the catalogue raisonné, more than half passed through his hands.” In China and southeast Asia, some of Sanyu’s paintings can go for as much $10 million. The 45 drawings from Riedel’s collection to be dispersed in Artcurial’s December 6 sale marking the 50th anniversary of Sanyu’s death — and on exhibition at the auction house’s Paris headquarters December 1 – 5 — are estimated at much more modest prices, starting in the high four figures. “Sanyu’s paintings are today impossible to find, and collectors are crying for his works on paper,” said Bruno Jaubert, Artcurial’s director of Impressionist and Modern Art. “Jean-Claude Riedel’s collection is exceptional.” Left: Poster for a Sanyu exhibition organized at the Galerie Jean-Claude Riedel. Right: Sanyu (1911 -1966), “Femme au chapeau bleu.” Watercolor and ink on paper, 46 x 30 cm. Collection Jean-Claude Riedel. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 20,000 – 30,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial. — Paul Ben-Itzak

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