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Saeta 48

Saeta 48
signed, titled, dated and inscribed 'Saeta 48/Dec 29/57/Zobel/Coppelia', affixed with the original gallery label (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
61 x 92 cm. (24 x 36 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1957

This painting is accompanied by a limited edition sketchbook of the artist, published in May 1954 by Carmelo & Bauermann Inc., Manila, and signed by the artist
Acquired in Manila in the 1950s by the previous owner who was in the United States Foreign Service
Gifted to the present owner
Private Collection, USA
Philippine Art Gallery, Zobel. Paintings /Schneidam. Sculptures, Manila, February 8-17, 1958.

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Lot Essay

Christie’s is pleased to present Saeta 48 (Lot 29) this season, undoubtedly a significant masterpiece from the oeuvre of one of Asia’s most progressive abstractionist artists Fernando Zóbel. Painted early in his career in 1957, this came at a point where he abandoned figuration and moved to pure abstraction. Dynamic and gestural, crimson lines dominate and flow across the canvas, superposed on a coloured background of black and emerald green, inspiring the work with movement, creating a unique pictorial universe all unto himself. Such is his undoubted and timeless recognition, fifty-five years since he first exhibited there in 1962, a retrospective titled Contrapuntos was presented in the recent 2017 Venice Biennale.

Belonging to his first sustained and acclaimed body of abstract works; the Saeta series was painted in the late 1950s, and was inspired by Movement. What is truly unique and unorthodox was his method of rendering lines which could be very long and yet be extremely precise, displaying his exceptional control over the medium. Zóbel once commented, "You might define the Saetas as drawing in thin lines against a field of colours. The real technical problem involved - one that took a long time to solve - was how to draw in oil paint, a line that could be very long if necessary, as well as thin and controllable. After many experiments I arrived at the use of glass hypodermic syringe, needle removed, filled with oil paint. The syringe is easy to handle and very sensitive to differences in angle and pressure. "

Zóbel appreciated the disciplined structure of the Chinese calligraphy art form, and his interest was a conscious effort to resolve and reconcile the divisive line between the figurative and the abstract. His deep admiration as well for its ability to capture movement and expressiveness was encapsulated and noted by Rod Paras- Perez, "These no doubt were crucial in preparing the way to his understanding of gestural expressionism. He recalled later that, because of the paper's absorbency, Chinese calligraphy had a unique capacity to capture visually the speed with which the artist manipulated the brush. As a result, it was possible to see the pauses and rhythms, or musical meter, of such an art. Ultimately, Zóbel's study of Chinese Calligraphy helped him identify the impetus for his own work, the recognition of his own hand's individual gesture and meter. Later, in the Saeta paintings, for example, there seems to be nothing Chinese about them. Rather, they are the work of an artist reaffirming his Western roots, particularly Spanish ones with all their echoes in Lorca."

Also of great inspiration and influence on Zóbel were the American Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, whose works he encountered in New York while he was a student in America. Rothko in particular had a heavy influence on his life and work, as the works opened up new ways of looking and appreciating art. The result of these influences and explorations resulted paradoxically in paying homage to, and denial of both Chinese Calligraphy and Abstract Expressionism to produce a unique body of work in his Saetas series. What is particularly interesting is that Zóbel would reject conforming to any particular true calligraphic gestures and abstract forms, instead forging ahead and challenging to create his own unique intricate weaving of elements onto canvas.

In Saeta 48, we see the moodiness of Rothko’s colour fields echoed in the wide black and emerald green brushstrokes in the background, and the application of crimson oil paint in an expressive, gestural fashion on top. Utilising the glass hypodermic syringe, allowed him to gain a level of graphic detail and precision that Kline and Pollock did not apply to their paintings. The syringe allowed him to control paint flow, pressure and the angle at which the pigment was used to create thin crimson red lines in either horizontal or vertical directions, creating a latticework of lines, yet imbuing the painting with great contrast and movement. The overall execution reveals a refined sense of architectural planning. While the fine lines draw the eye in both vertical and horizontal directions, the sensation created is never one of chaos. All its elements are in complete harmony: the spatial allocation of l against colour fields; the careful calculation of weight and balance; the finely honed swift blurring which interrupts the clarity of line. Saeta 48 reveals a beautiful synchrony between expression and technical achievement; demonstrating the years of aesthetic evolution and research by Zóbel toward this eventual masterpiece.

It would be a process of synthesis and assimilation; of all things that are captivating and echoed with the innate nature of Zóbel. Hence, Saeta is a poetic summary of Pollock's dripping, the occidental calligraphy of Mathieu, Rothko's sense of the sublime, the architecture of Franz Kline picture and also the Zen garden of Ryoan-Ji in Kyoto where he first visited in 1956 where he would himself admitted that the "lines painstakingly traced with the rake would become one of the starting points of the brilliant series Saeta."

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