The Asian collector’s expertise with regard to abstract art commonly originates with the lyrical abstraction masters such as Zao Wou-Ki and Chu-Teh Chun. This explosive movement not only announced a fundamental shift in the aims and objectives of art, it was also a symbol in the fight for artistic dominance between Europe and the United States. The artist who set the foundation for this movement was none other than French artist and member of Académie des Beaux-Arts, Georges Mathieu. In 1944, inspired by the literary works of British writers Edward Crankshaw and Joseph Conrad, Mathieu created his first abstract paintings, which were exhibited in the 1946 Salon des moins de 30 ans exhibition in Paris. In November of the following year, Mathieu made a splash at the 14th Salon des Surindépendants in Paris. His work, entered under the description of “lyrical abstractivisme,” received high praise from the art critic Jean José Marchand. Encouraged, Mathieu launched the artistic group L’Imaginaire shortly after, bringing together Hans Hartung, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and a dozen of other artistic pioneers. In December of 1947, at Paris’ Galerie du Luxembourg, L’Imaginaire held a Lyrical Abstraction group exhibition. This marked the official entrance of Lyrical Abstraction into the world, celebrating its evolution from theory to creation. In the decades that followed, the movement continued to develop and expand, becoming a significant school of thought in the latter half of the 20th century.
A Crown of Glory, A Badge of Honor
Following World War II, the United States underwent a rapid emergence on all fronts, as New York City and Paris fought over the coveted position as the art capital of the world. More specifically, it was a battle between American Abstract Expressionism and French Lyrical Abstraction. Even so, Mathieu was not partial to drawing lines along national boundaries. Instead, he used the dialogue that had sprung up around the standoff between American and French abstract art to introduce American abstract masters such as Jackson Pollock to the French public. At the same time, Mathieu displayed a deep interest in Eastern culture. In addition to establishing an intimate friendship with Zao Wou-Ki, beginning in the 1950s, the artist also devoted himself to Eastern calligraphy. In 1971, the documentary “Georges Mathieu ou La fureur d’être” directed by Oscar-nominee Frédéric Rossif opens with images of Eastern calligraphy, illuminating the origins of the artist’s path toward lyrical abstraction. In 1976, he was inducted into the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and during that time, at the pinnacle of his glorious artist career, the artist completed La Passion Retrouvée (Lot 1034). It was unveiled at the opening ceremony of a retrospective exhibition for the artist at the Grand Palais in 1978.
As its title suggests, La Passion Retrouvée, from its composition to use of color, is a display of Mathieu’s ambitious vision and surging ideas. The composition radiates in all directions from the center, the azure brushstrokes broad and magnanimous, spreading out, yet retaining a steady and stable center of gravity. The golden lines, sharp and powerful, appear almost as Chinese characters, or Western emblems. This striking composition is suspended above a dynamic sea of red, applied by the artist using a color-soaked glove, rhythmically pounding the surface of the canvas, again and again. The meticulous layers contain, then, a sense of surging, turbulent vigor, as though illustrating the artist’s own journey of setting sail across the world, arriving at the apex of his career.
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