Lot 1056
  • 1056

IMAI TOSHIMITSU | Rising Sun (five panels)

1,800,000 - 2,800,000 HKD
3,240,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Toshimitsu Imai
  • Rising Sun (five panels)
  • oil, synthetic resin and gravel on canvas
  • each: 162 by 130 cm; 63¾ by 51⅛ in.
    overall: 162 by 650 cm; 63¾ by 256 in.
signed in English and dated 61 Paris to the first and fifth panel; each signed in Japanese and English and dated 1961 on the reverse


Galerie Stadler, Paris
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Japan, Osaka, The National Museum of Art; Tokyo, Meguro Museum of Art; Iwaki City, Iwaki City Art Museum, Imaï: A Retrospective 1950 – 1989, 8 April – 23 May, 3 June – 3 August, 2 September – 1 October 1989, pp. 58-9 (illustrated in colour)


Toshimitsu IMAÏ, Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Tokyo, Japan, 1975, p. 54 (illustrated in colour)
IMAÏ, Electa, Milan, Italy, 1998, p. 124-5 (illustrated in colour)

Catalogue Note

Colours of the Rising Sun
Imaï Toshimitsu

His colours grow so strong that it brings about an extreme effect of sound; the texture of his paintings is so rich and dense that they seem about to burn with emotion […] The colours splashing out into space are like the rocks of fire and lava coming out from the volcano’s crater in the fable […] The texture goes according to the rhythms of natural, eternal rules, and thus he begins to gather together the Oriental myths of nature, repeating the symbols of moon, sea, birds and volcano. - Giulio Carlo Argan, Italian art historian

Heaven meets earth in the gloriously resplendent Rising Sun, a monumental six-meter magnum opus hailing from the pinnacle of Imaï Toshimitsu’s momentous Informel period in Paris. Created in 1961, this masterpiece is possibly the last major work displaying Imaï’s most distinctive and revolutionary breakthrough Informel style, characterized by his large Temps Modernes series, which brought him instant worldwide acclaim in the mid to late-1950s. Executed at the height of his powers, one year after the artist was chosen as a representative of Japan at the 30th Venice Biennale and in the same year as his third solo exhibition at the Galerie Stadler in Paris, the present work exhibits heightened acuity in colour and conjures up what French critic Michel Tapié called an “extremely rich pictorial alchemy”. A stunning paradise evoking at once solar systems and deep oceans, with exotic colour combinations encompassing gleaming gold, mysterious jade, earthen brown and unfathomable turquoise, the current lot’s spectacular scale, majestic splendour and explosively complex tactility is archetypal of Imaï’s truly phenomenal brand of gestural expressionism characterized by both grace and grandeur, and as the last work of his most defining period, is one of the most important works of the Imai’s entire career.

Imaï moved to Paris in 1952 in spite of his blossoming fame in Japan; as a result, he was the first Japanese artist to become associated with the European Informel movement. Spurred on by Tapié, the Informel artists strived for a break from all prior notions of order, form and composition, including those of Modernism, emphasising not just the non-figurative but also the non-geometric. As a young Japanese painter thrust into the heart of the Informel movement, Imai’s early years in Paris displayed explosive transitions in style and subject: outlines dissolved into abstract gestures, surfaces became dynamically, fiercely, textured, and rich colours burgeoned from hitherto dark monochromatic tones. After a personal encounter with Tapié, Imaï lived out Informel’s unbridled spontaneity and instinctive expression with bold and unreserved abandon: forsaking both outline and brush, he began throwing on paint in thick splashes and spatters, heaping and layering with knives, and dripping paint directly onto the canvas. His technique resulted in stunningly complex pictorial surfaces: ridges, sinewy tendons and craggy crevices leap, writhe and cut through molten coatings of paint; scatterings of sand grit augment the organic textures; while mesmerizing sheens of colour shimmer through a subtly glossed lacquer finish reminiscent of traditional Japanese pottery.

These breakthrough works captivated Parisian media overnight: in 1957, writing in the catalogue for Imaï’s extremely well-received solo exhibition at Stadler Gallery, poet and critic Takiguchi Shuzo used the distinctive phrase une magie virginale (“a virginal magic”) to describe the raw exuberance of Imaï’s paintings. A similar expression, geste virginale (“virginal gesture”), was used by French author Jean-Jacques Lévêque, also in response to the 1957 Stadler Gallery exhibition. The defining show played a key role in establishing Imaï’s international status, distinguishing him not just from his Japanese contemporaries but as a unique revolutionary artistic force in the wider global context: compared to contemporary Informel artists of the period, and furthermore to Pollock’s similarly exuberant action painting, Imaï’s Japanese sensibilities set him apart with a fresh aesthetic and East Asian dimension that reach into the very depths of human existence. As early as the mid-1950s Imaï’s works were collected by prominent collectors such as Anthony Denney, who was quick to recognize Imaï’s radical visual language, as well as artists such as Lucio Fontana, who bought a few works by Imaï in 1959. Following the defining 1957 exhibition, Peggy Guggenheim and Philippe Dotremont competed to acquire a large 2 by 6 metre work entitled Chaos before the work eventually entered the Philippe Dotremont Collection.

In 1961, the same year that this piece was created, Le Monde magazine reviewed Imaï’s solo exhibition and commented: “pictures have once again become a spiritual event”, with the phrase “once again” being in reference to how the violent splendour of Imai’s works reminded viewers of Monet’s water lilies (Imaï: A Retrospective 1950 – 1989, The National Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1989, p. 9). At once rugged and radiant, this extraordinary masterpiece exudes a cosmic dynamism that is heroically transcendent. Compared with his earlier works in the 1950s, the current lot exudes a heightened blazing radiance, in which the colour of gleaming gold triumphantly dominates, foreshadowing Imaï’s later works in the 1980s that incorporate traditional Ka-Cho-Fu-Getsu (flower-bird-wind-moon) aesthetics. In assessing his own artistic career, Imaï declares that he was only able to avoid the dead-end of gestural formalism and preserve the life and vigor of the Informel spirit by referring to Zen philosophies based on the harmony between man and seasonal rhythms. The notion of nature as the underlying drive of sensibility recalls that of Yves Klein, whose primary colors of blue, gold and pink encapsulate the essence and spirit of nature. “Both Klein and Imaï are architects of the air”, wrote Pierre Restany. “The one seeks the alchemist’s flame that burns at the heart of the void, while the other paints on the wing of the wind. One discovered the West through the East and the other, the East through the West” (Ibid., p. 171).

Restany also wrote that “Imaï paints on the wing of the wind: the vibrancy that he imparts to coloured surfaces is more immaterial than material in its essence. [...] Imaï’s painting resumes the tradition of displaying seasonable beauty” (Ibid., p. 172). In Takiguchi’s words, meanwhile, Imaï’s art is “directed toward the sources, and goes back to the primitive elements of Japanese art whose masterpieces formerly realized the perfect unity of signs and matter […] Imaï admits in his picture his sympathy for the magic of earth and fire of ancient Japanese potters […] In the old craft of European painting Imaï is going to accomplish a virginal magic”. A tireless lifelong proponent as well as practitioner of Informel, Imaï played a central role in introducing the movement to Japan, organizing the first Informel show in Japan as early as 1956 and promoting Tapié’s writings and theories in the country. In 1957 Imaï personally arranged for Tapié and Georges Mathieu to visit Japan; soon afterwards, Tapié and Mathieu became important associates and advocates of the Gutai movement in Europe and beyond.