This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Le Comité Georges Mathieu
Georges Mathieu was the founder of Lyrical Abstraction in France, and he became a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1976. Mathieu was a contemporary of Zao Wou-Ki (b. 1920), Chu Teh-Chun (b. 1920), and other post-war masters. His contributions to the development of global abstract art can be compared with those of Chinese abstract artist Wu Dayu (b. 1903) and American abstract artist Mark Rothko (b. 1903). Mathieu showed talent from a young age. In the 1940s, when Mathieu was not yet 30, he proposed the theory of French Lyrical Abstraction, organized the first exhibition for the Lyrical Abstraction painting group, and began creating unparalleled abstract works. At that time, the founders of Chinese and American abstract painting, Wu Dayu and Rothko, were nearly 20 years his senior. In 1950, he started a life-long friendship with Zao Wou-ki, who also had a relationship with dealer Pierre Loeb. From 1956 to 1958, his exhibitions and travels in Japan created quite a stir. In the ‘Gutai Art Manifesto,’ Gutai leader Jiro Yoshihara noted that Gutai artists held the work of Pollock and Mathieu in high regard. From this, we can see that Mathieu’s works from the 1950s had an outsized importance in the development of global abstract art. The Centre Georges Pompidou, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, have collected Mathieu’s work from this period. Considering the importance of the date and the classic qualities of its colour and composition, Composition (Lot 1040), offered at this Evening Sale, is an outstanding work that would not be out of place in these international museum collections.
‘Nobody in the East has ever thought of rejecting any notion of artistic quality in calligraphy under the pretext that it is produced in a few seconds.’
Excertp from D’Aristote à l’Abstraction lyrique, Georges Mathieu, April 1959
In the 1950s, Mathieu started to explore Eastern calligraphy and philosophy, which was an important source of inspiration for his theories and artworks in Lyrical Abstraction. Composition was painted in lacquer red and ink black. From the medium to the colours, the work represents the creative traits of that time. This work not only reflects the inspiration of Eastern lacquer art, but also echoes the grand tradition of calligraphy. He understood Eastern art from a Western perspective, and he drew the concepts of symbolism, structure, speed, and power from calligraphy, which greatly inspired his way of creating abstract paintings. As a result, there is an Eastern quality to this foundational work of French Lyrical Abstraction. The criss-crossed lines in the image reflect the structure of Eastern ‘wild cursive.’ The dashed, decisive markings start from right to left and from top to bottom. Even the signature in the lower left corner is very different from the Western habit of signing a lower right corner of the painting. It resembles the Thousand Character Classic in Cursive Script, and presents a horizontal scroll with dancing writing divorced from textual meaning. Circular symbols repeated in the right, middle, and left reference the Zen practice of ensō, where a painter creates circles as a meditative and creative exercise. The work reflects the origins of French Lyrical Abstraction, which has a deeper source in Eastern calligraphy and philosophy. As he wrote in 1963 in Beyond Tachisme, ‘I note that “calligraphy,” the art of the sign par excellence, has managed to liberate itself from the literal content signifier of writing, and it is henceforth only the direct power of meaning, with writing itself outstripping its own fundamental value.’ After Mathieu visited Japan, Gutai leader Jiro Yoshihara began to use ensō as a symbol in the 1960s and develop his own abstract language. These ideas were also circular in the sense that they resonated within both European and Eastern abstract art worlds, mutually creating echoes and propelling one another forward.
Composition was first collected by Carlo Frua de Angeli (1895-1969), noted Milan industrialist and modern art collector. In addition to pieces by Mathieu, he collected important works by masters such as Henri Matisse and Giorgio de Chirico. When Composition first came into the public eye years ago, it immediately attracted the attention of an important collector. Mathieu’s work from the 1950s leads the international auction market, and works of a similar size have repeatedly broken the EUR 400,000 (approx. HKD 4,000,000) mark. Composition, with its rare date and extraordinary significance, is an opportunity that collectors will find hard to pass up at this Hong Kong Evening Sale.
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