Lot 1041
  • 1041

LALAN | Sans titre

1,800,000 - 3,500,000 HKD
2,750,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Sans titre
  • mixed media on paper
  • 280 by 148 cm; 100 ¼ by 58 ¼ in. 
executed in 1987-1989


Acquired directly from the artist by the present important private European collector


Shanghai, Shanghai Art Museum, My Vision of Paradise — Retrospective of Lalan's Art, 4 July - 5 August 2009 
Macau, Macao Museum of Art, Fragrance of the Mind: A Retrospective of Lalan's Work, 5 March - 30 May 2010
Taipei, National Museum of History, Fragrance of the Mind: A Retrospective of Lalan's Work, 9 July - 8 August 2010


Li Lei, ed., Lalan, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai People's Fine Art Publishing, Shanghai, 2009, p. 123
Fragrance of the Mind: A Retrospective of Lalan's Work, Macao Museum of Art, Macau, 2010, plate 83, p. 123

Catalogue Note

Lalan: Abstractions of Dancing Water Bring an Artist Full Circle Lalan was distinctive among the prominent Chinese modern artists of the twentieth century. She was unique for her avant-garde artistic style, which fused music, dance, and painting, and her work expressed universal values that transcended region, race, and gender. Sans Titre (Lot 1041) was born when Lalan returned to abstraction in the late 1980s. Gone were the bold and free calligraphic brushstrokes of her early work, replaced by delicate and beautiful yet penetrating lines. The piece represents Lalan’s artistic peak arrived after having continuously refined her artistic ideas.

Flowing Lines with Overwhelming Power

Working and residing in Paris, Lalan returned to China frequently beginning in the late 1970s. It was during this time that she rediscovered traditional Chinese culture, which provided new direction in her art. She used ink lines similar to those that delineate figures in Chinese painting, but she removed the representational contours and modulated the spirit of calligraphic brushstrokes. She painted with various materials and gradually formed a purely linear abstract style that was flowing and abundant. In Sans Titre, subtle lines are faintly visible in a blue-green composition. There is none of the same powerful vigour that burst from her work in the 1960s. Instead, the work evokes an almost molten, fluid tenderness. The density of the lines is uneven. At times, they assertively occupy the space, and at other times, they flow through it. The viewers’ eyes are drawn from the centre to the four corners of the paper, creating a spatial dimension akin to a vast universe.

Lalan subtly yet perfectly presents the explosive moment of a dancer’s “held breath” in Sans Titre. The long and unbroken lines undulate and collide in the work, an interpretation of the artist’s limbs dancing as she painted. She achieved the same effect as the reckless splashes of post-war Abstract Expressionism using a different method, but the surging energy of the work has an additional measure of emotional restraint and forbearance. Between the expansion and contraction, she perfectly encapsulates the work’s atmosphere and power. At the same time, this piece of paper, measuring nearly three meters long, offered Lalan greater freedom than afforded with canvas. Beginning from unspoken inner emotion, she organically infused the painting with music, dance, movement, and rhythm.

 An Image of Water, A Longing for Life 

In the late 1980s, Lalan and her husband Marcel Van Thienen bought a garden villa in Bormes-les-Mimosas on the Cote d’Azur in France. Flowers and plants thrived outside the window of her sunlit second-floor studio, and every day she was immersed in the dynamism of nature. Another major source of inspiration for Lalan’s work from this period was the ocean, which was just a few kilometres from her home. Water became a pervasive theme in the later period of her artistic career. In Sans Titre, she used a mixture of blue and white to depict the water, which resembles choppy waves flickering on the boundless ocean. Delicate lines delineate the dynamic details of rippling water, much like the twelve-part Views of Water, in which Southern Song landscape master Ma Yuan bared his emotions through paintings of water.The concept of water moves within time and space, living beyond the brush and paper as an infinite concept.

Over the course of Lalan’s artistic career, she came full circle, moving from abstraction to figuration, and from figuration to abstraction. This season, Sotheby’s is proud to offer Sans Titre, which reflects Lalan’s return to abstraction and perfectly represents this confident, independent, and vital woman artist’s tireless, cyclical explorations. As she wrote for her 1974 solo exhibition in Corbeil-Essonnes:

“There is no distance / neither far / nor near / There is no duration of time / The beginning is the end / time is frozen…”