Lot 1024
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Fernando Zobel

800,000 - 1,500,000 HKD
1,500,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Fernando Zobel
  • Alberche
  • Signed
  • Oil on canvas


Collection of Alfredo Melián

Subastas Durán, Madrid, July 25, 1979, lot 37

Private European Collection


Mario Hernández, Fernando Zóbel: El Misterio de lo Transparente, Ed. Rayuela, 1977, p. 45, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Abstract Expressionism is synonymous with poetry, movement, and cerebral flight, and such are the foundations of Fernando Zobel’s body of works. An artist whose interest in abstract art was inspired by the natural landscape, as well as the rhythms of the seasons, and flora and fauna, Zobel sought to incorporate all these moments into his abstract paintings. “My paintings have always been tranquil. I seek order in everything that surrounds me… I seek the explanation of beauty,”1 he said. A keen observer and participant in the world around him, Zobel was also known as a scholar, music enthusiast, photographer, and philanthropist during his lifetime.

Living a dual existence between Spain and the Philippines, the artist was “the quintessential transnational who spent much of his life searching for his roots2. This underlining tension of being present, and yet associating oneself to a particular locale, was a frequent theme within his oeuvre. The abstract works thus convey a certain ‘pictorial tension’ that may be seen as the artist’s interior world finding a voice within the narratives.

The present works Guadarrama and Alberche are part of the artist’s La Serie Negra paintings that were a collection of works originating in the 1960s. This particular grouping was viewed as a studied analysis on the deliberate negation of colours from the works themselves, as well as a concentration on light and motion to highlight the absence of hues and concentrate on visceral feelings. Both works were painted in 1961, one year shy of the artist beginning to experiment with colours, or lack thereof in his works. More of a philosophical dialogue than a physical likeness to one place and time, the La Serie Negra were inspired largely by the artist’s memories of his travels abroad. Akin with poetry that embraces language to gift the imagination and intellect with form, Zobel’s choice usage of a largely black, grey, and white palette that dominated the La Serie Negra, established a certain vibration within the paintings that provided the narratives with their own special presence and emotions.        

As he explained, “[it was] qualities of remembered experiences, things that struck me… Take my Icarus [painting]… It is a recurring theme in many of these paintings, and it has to do really with a combination of a flight of birds, an effect of light, and the way I feel about the legend of Icarus, all rolled into one. What I am interested in is that [the viewer] gets some kind of equivalent emotion of what I originally felt just by looking at the picture ”.3 Alcala and Sin titulo (Untitled) share similar properties with the aforementioned painting, where forms and colours are redefined within a monochrome-inspired colour palette, and light is seen as the prevailing theme that unifies the works into a balanced whole.

Both present works share the distinction of being landscape paintings per se, for Gaudarrama is a small town located in Madrid, while Alberche is a river that flows through three provinces: Madrid, Avila, and Toledo. Zobel often titled his abstract paintings after places from his travels, grounding the ephemeral quality of the colours and compositions into an existing framework. He desired to “distil images, narratives and realities to their quintessence”.4 Bodies of water were a frequent motif in the abstract works. Especially the rivers and lakes found near the artist’s home in Spain, the natural ebb and flow rushing over rocks and soil, soon to join oceans and seas. The painting Jucar VIII is part of a smaller group of works dedicated to the Jucar River located in Cuena, and that piece together with Alberche further reveals the beauty of the Spanish natural landscape. Such paintings were reflective of the artist’s want to capture the environment as per a personal aesthetic, and it was through abstract expressionism that he was able to do so.

Much has been discussed about Zobel’s relationship with colour, and the evolution of his oeuvre to reveal the artist embracing, as well as abandoning, certain colours to emphasize his rigorous creative philosophy and aesthetic. During his time studying in America in the early fifties, it was the chance encounter with a Mark Rothko exhibition that ignited Zobel’s fascination about colour theory, with the artist experiencing profound emotions from certain colours over others. This became a lifelong pursuit to comprehend, and demonstrate this understanding, throughout his career as a painter. Another notable artist who had an influence upon his oeuvre was Franz Kline, and this is most evident in the La Serie Negra paintings.

To me colour does act in space and it does have a strong emotional impact. Some colours seem to signify certain things to most people. No question that when you get a grey line that is bluish, people tend to read something aerial into it”, Zobel said. “When you use an earth colour, people tend to read solids into it. It is in that sense that I use colours expressively, sometimes to nail things down, sometimes to release them, sometimes to get effects of transparency or opaqueness”.5

The La Serie Negra paintings are essentially a continuation of the Saetas series from the fifties where the artist used a hypodermic syringe to create precise line within the narratives. They are reminiscent of paintings by artists such as Cy Twombly and Joan Mitchell, other individuals who played a role in Zobel’s artistic growth. Meanwhile works like Gaudarrama and Alberche represent this change in artistic direction, for the linear aesthetics from past works has been deliberately disrupted, the lines now brushed together to create a mass of colours and forms upon the canvases.

Though celebrated as a Filipino artist, Zobel’s oeuvre is demonstrative of his Spanish ancestry as well, with many of the paintings a visual discourse of his time living in Europe. Gaudarrama and Alberche are paintings that originated from such memories, this nostalgia for a foreign place represented within the dream-like narratives. The works are ultimately the artist embracing abstract expressionism to reflect a specific period, as well as “to redefine and [achieve] identity [while interrogating] issues… simultaneously through the prisms of East and West [artistic expression].”6

1 Florina H. Capistrano-Baker, Edward J. Sullivan, Peter Soriano, Pioneers of Philippine Art: Luna Amorsolo Zobel: Transnationalism in the late 19th – 20th Century, Ayala Foundation Inc,., Manila, pg. 44

2 Refer to1, pg. 44

3 http://fernandozobel.com/gallery%20html/heights_article1.htm

4 Refer to 1, pg. 46

5 Refer to 2

6 Refer to 1, pg. 48