Sans Titre (Untitled)

Sans Titre (Untitled)
oil and mixed media on canvas
195 x 130 cm. (76 3/4 x 51 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1994
Acquired directly from the artist by the previous European owner
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 6 Oct 2013, Lot 524
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Thompson, Sophy and Antoine Chen Yen Fon. J. M. Beurdeley, Lalan , Bangkok, Thailand, 1999 (illustrated, p. 106)

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Lot Essay

‘Painting can only be expressed through painting, just like music or poetry are inexpressible by means other than poetry and music. It can be said that it is very rare to witness the appearance of an authentic artist, it is very rare to recognize a unique voice, it is very rare to bring novelty in non-figurative painting, to have such a strong, discrete, yet obvious originality such as Lalan’s. One is tempted to acknowledge that nothing new can be done in any field or other: then suddenly, here comes novelty, here comes the unexpected, here comes a painter, here comes Lalan” Eugène Ionesco (1909-1994)


As a consummate witness of her time and artistic movements surrounding her, Lalan has managed to leave a unique mark of her own style and personality on the canvas of 20th Century Abstract art. Her work, resulting from her multiple talents as a poet, calligrapher, dancer, composer, musician, and painter, reveals an inner strength inspired by her personal history. Limitless in its depth, her art seeks modernity amidst her ancestral roots and delivers a powerful and essential force to the world surrounding her. Untitled (Lot 42) is the apotheosis of her talents as an artist and is one of her most majestic and mature paintings.

Lalan was born in 1921 in Guiyang to literati parents who encouraged her to pursue art through music and calligraphy. After studying piano and voice at the National Art College of Hangzhou and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, she left for France in 1948 with her first husband, Zao Wou-Ki. Upon arrival in Paris, the couple embraced the effervescent art scene the city had to offer, where they discovered Lyrical Abstraction through artist friends such as Pierre Soulages. She perfected her knowledge of music and dance at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse and the American Community Center in Paris. She was quick to discover electronic music and modern dance, under the aegis of Edgar Varèse and inspired by Martha Graham, and soon realized these specific art forms would provide an inexhaustible source of creativity. Her status not only as Zao Wou-Ki’s muse, but also as a composer and choreographer, propelled her to engage in various collaborations, thus exposing her to new discoveries. Despite a thriving artistic environment surrounding her all along, it is only after her divorce with Zao Wou-Ki, a short trip back to China in 1956, and her second marriage in 1958 with artist Marcel Van Thienen, that Lalan started painting and re-emerged as Lalan. Her previous practice of modern music and dance having perfectly paved the way, it is only natural that she would adopt abstract painting as a means of free expression.


Throughout her career as an artist, Lalan’s work has oscillated between abstract and figurative, between performance and two-dimensional, between East and West. Regardless of time, her paintings are the ultimate expression of motions through her balanced movements and her rigorous training in calligraphy –the former achieved thanks to her exposure to modern Western dance influences, the latter sourced from her reconnection with her Chinese heritage. In 1956, Lalan briefly returned to China, an opportunity for her to strengthen her ties with her family and Chinese culture. In 1968, she travelled again to China and began to study the Chinese classics and Taoist Philosophy. Her rediscovery of Chinese depictions of landscapes, through a refreshed point of view, enabled her to capture the power of Chinese calligraphic lines (Fig. 1). Infusing energy and dynamism into her work, Lalan combined music, dance, and painting as an experimentation she called ‘integrated art’ (Fig. 2). Her performances brought together the disparate categories of electronic music, modern dance and the visual arts. Moreover, Lalan's friendship with Georges Mathieu may have inspired her process in breaking down conventional artistic barriers (Fig. 3). Her work Untitled was painted in 1994, one year prior to her sudden death in a car accident. By that time, Lalan has mastered the balance between musical rhythm and physical control, while expressing spontaneity and randomness. The featured painting is a masterpiece, an empowering vertical composition comprising of multidimensional relief through the contrast of light areas with the central dominating variations of browns and greys. Rapid and fluid calligraphic brushstrokes appear and disappear throughout the composition, creating an effect of movement inspired by the beauty and lyricism of nature. These expressive lines can only come into existence from the hand of a profound, experienced artist who is able to seamlessly calibrate thoughtful control of her movements with monumental rhythms in harmony with the natural world. Through this work, Lalan unveils her unique modern spirit combining elements from traditional Chinese painting with a Western vision of abstraction.

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