Seeds of Modernist ideas from the West were first sown into Chinese soil during the late Qing dynasty period. Gradually, Chinese art developed into a new historical phase. Pan Yuliang, Fang Junbi, and Guan Zilan were among the first generation of female artists from the Republic. Independent and self-assured, they broke free from the restraints of a traditional patriarchal society and took their positions on the historical stage. A member of this group, Lalan carved out her own domain in the Western art world with her deeply cultural background and her courage to transcend gender bias, innovating an artistic approach that combined music and painting. Sans Titre (Lot 1024) is a representative work from Lalan’s transitional phase, presenting her pioneering artistic practice half a century ago, inheriting as well as further developing the power of awakening among modern women.
A Clear and Bright Landscape
This work was created between 1968 to 1970 when Lalan was making a transition from a calligraphic abstractionist approach to a new landscape domain. During the two-year creative process, her continuous explorations brought her to an awareness that painting need not be constrained by either abstract or representational formats. Instead it was ultimately about the expression of personal emotions. Consequently, she removed these earlier constraints to embark on an artistic journey. This journey began from the essence of painting, was guided by individual beliefs and clearly defined concepts, and finally led to a wider and freer artistic landscape.
The brushstrokes from the 1960s abstract calligraphic style appears in the painting’s composition, while also incorporating the delightful imagery of a natural landscape. The painting balances the boldly masculine with the gently feminine, and yet embodies neither of the two. There is a precipice of which the bottom cannot be seen. Stretches of mountain peaks are distributed diagonally, an approach akin to Southern Song dynasty landscape master Ma Yuan’s ‘one corner painting’ style, aptly reflecting Lalan’s understanding of traditional Chinese landscape paintings. When Zhang Daqian exhibited his new works in Paris during the 1960s, Lalan and her close friend Sanyu often visited these exhibitions, which enabled the opportunity for first-hand artistic exchange. All of these influences were incorporated into the use of color in the present work. Lalan boldly splashed ivory white, indigo, grayish-brown and bright red onto the canvas, in kindred spirit with Zhang’s green landscape and fluid, splashed-ink technique.
Sun and Moon Shining Together
Lalan’s search for a new artistic approach was deeply influenced by Daoist ideas. She used abstract landscape to depict the principle that all things in the universe originate from the same source. In the painting, layers of mountains rise and fall within a tranquil lake, a bright moon ascends from clouds and mist while a red sun hovers on the horizon, creating an extraordinary scene of the sun and the moon shining together. The artistic landscape was guided by internal thoughts. Ever committed to artistic self-expression and a reverence for nature, Lalan suffusing the whole canvas with this landscape, laying forth a broad and open vision unfettered by geography, race or gender.
In this year’s Hong Kong Spring sale, Lalan’s La lune est voilée achieved impressive result, sold at six times the original estimate. This is more evidence that Chinese female artists have gained wide recognition by the public. The pioneering spirit of these artists made significant contribution to the development of modern art, completing the yin and yang of modern art history.
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