“A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness and some fantasy” – Edgar Degas
Fernando Zobel is well-celebrated as one of the most progressive abstractionists of his time. Originally from Manila, Philippines, Zobel started as a medical student before pursuing further studies at Harvard University. During his time in the US, he was exposed to an emerging yet vibrant art scene. Being able to visit exhibitions there, particularly one from Mark Rothko in 1954, inspired him to pursue pure abstraction. A polymath in his own right, he successfully incorporated his personal journey into his art which came the birth of his own unique visual vernacular. Most notably, he was known for inventing an innovative technique by filling oil paint in a hypodermic syringe, allowing him to create powerful calligraphic lines with extreme graphic detail and precision.
In the present lot, staged at the centre of the work is a burst of radiant light and energy, outlined by continuous dashes of sinuous lines and patches of earthy, gold-toned colours, which then are fully embraced by shades of greenish hues. Within this intertwining and sophisticated composition, Zobel captured the shimmering effects of light, reflection and movement. Titled Bodegon, it translates to 'still life' in Spanish, yet the subject matter itself does not sit still. The fluidity of Zobel's brushstrokes enhances dynamism within the confines of the canvas. By placing the object in subtle motion, it evokes a conversation between the elements depicted in this painterly work, concurrently demonstrating the artist's clever play in blurring the boundaries between representation and abstraction.
As some would say, behind every picture there is a story to tell, just as Bodegon has a unique tale of its own. This exquisite painting was part of the diverse collection of Philip and Sylvia Chaplain. Sylvia, a Spanish major at Cornell University, was also an avid studio painter. Her interest in Spanish and Art brought her to Mexico, where she met the famed artist Diego Rivera who introduced her to an art school in Mexico City where she studied for a year. The couple were passionate collectors of modern art and design to an extent that they spent the last of their savings on artworks during their honeymoon in 1951. Spain in particular was one of their beloved travel locations, and by chance they stumbled across Gallería Juana Mordó where they started purchasing in 1964. Eventually, an affectionate friendship was developed between them and owner Juana Mordó, where they began a close correspondence over the years and even exchanged Christmas cards.
When Bodegon was purchased from the gallery, it was shipped from Madrid to the US twice. On its first voyage, it arrived in Manchester, New York by mistake. It was later returned to Madrid once again before finally making its way to Manchester, New Hampshire and the painting has been proudly hung on the walls of the Chaplain home since 1965. The couple's lifelong love affair with art ultimately led them down a path of becoming antique dealers, specializing in Asian art and antiquity.