LALAN (XIE JINGLAN, 1921-1995)
LALAN (XIE JINGLAN, 1921-1995)
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LALAN (XIE JINGLAN, 1921-1995)

Nuit bleu (Blue Night)

LALAN (XIE JINGLAN, 1921-1995)
Nuit bleu (Blue Night)
signed and dated ‘LALAN 66-67’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
89 x 116 cm. (35 x 45 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1966-1967
Private collection, Denmark (acquired from the exhibition “Lalan – separatudstilling” at Galerie Moderne in Denmark in 1971 by the previous owner’s family)
Anon. sale, Bruu Rasmussen Auctioneers, 4 December 2019, lot 1501
Acquired from the above by the present owner

The authenticity of the artwork has been confirmed by Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery, Zhao Jialing and Jean-Michel Beurdeley. A certificate of authenticity can be requested by the successful buyer.
Lalan – separatudstilling, Galerie Moderne, Silkerborg, Denmark, 1971 (listed, no. 14).
Silkerborg, Denmark, Galerie Moderne, Lalan – separatudstilling, 16 October – 3 November 1971.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

Lot Essay

"The gesture of painting emanates from sounds and gestures inherent in the human body." - Lalan

Lalan was gifted in the true sense of the word — her artistic talents were innate in her blood. As a multidisciplinary artist, music inspired her dancing, and dancing inspired her painting. A sense of inner rhythm directed her artistic practice.

Lalan shared similar background with her first husband Zao Wou-Ki — coming from affluent families, exceptional education were provided for them. Before she travelled to France to advance her studies, she was already an accomplished artist with a mature stylistic vocabulary. Born in Guiyang in China in 1921 to a family with a long lineage of academic accomplishments, Lalan’s was immersed in a culturally rich environment when she was growing up. Her father was adept in both Chinese and Western music, and he nurtured a robust appreciation for the arts within her. Subsequently, she studied music at China Academy of Art as well as Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

With the conclusion of the Second World War, Lalan followed Zao Wou-Ki to the “artistic capital of the world” — Paris, where the intrepid spirit of the new abstraction movement filled the air at the time. Lalan continued to advance her study in music composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris as well as dance at Le Centre American. During her time in Paris, she was deeply inspired by avant garde composer Edgard Varese and dancer Martha Graham. Such a progressive artistic environment activated her innate gift and motivated her to create.

Before 1957, Lalan assumed the role of a dutiful wife and mother. As the woman behind Zao Wou-Ki , she could only offer suggestions and quietly support her husband’s artistic career. However, situated in the maelstrom of an artistic revolution, Lalan was not satisfied with merely being the muse for the artist. Ultimately, she left her husband whom she loved since they were young and remarried French sculptor Marcel Van Thienen. It was at this juncture she changed her name from Xie Jinglan to Lalan. Looking back at her first marriage, she professed, “I learned about modernist painting from my partner. But it was not until I shed the garb of the muse did I realise that I cannot live without painting”. Freed from the shackles , Lalan’s artistic career had just begun. Through different modes of expression such as abstract painting, modern dance, and electronic music, Lalan expressed her ideas. Upon finding her genuine voice, she started down a path of expression via abstraction.

Absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco wrote for Lalan for her second exhibition at the Paperback Gallery in Edinburgh, commenting on the vitality in Lalan’s paintings in this period. “Right away, I was struck by the artist’s use of gestural brushwork. It was a kind of improvised motion, but the power of her dynamism has a passion that resonates with the viewers. The way the brushstrokes delineate form is full of rhythm like a raging rapid conquered. Xie Jinglan has absolute command of the painting medium, and she judiciously unleashes her self-expressions as well as controls her intensity of emotions in order diversify the picture.”

Lalan said that her earlier works are full of lyrical elements that express emotions. Motivated by feelings of melancholia, they are abstract paintings that are akin to calligraphy. Blue Night employs large areas of blue washes on canvas as the dominant tone of the work. Above of the foundational washes that occupy the entire canvas are layers upon layers of red pigments. The conflict between cool and warm tones create tension and a sense of commotion. Varying degrees of brightness achieve a sense of depth. All the elements work in concert to create a turbulent starry sky that hints at the mysterious forces in the universe that are incomprehensible to mortals. Bold brushworks in the manner of Chinese calligraphy gush from the centre of the work — here, Lalan masterfully displayed her deeply cultivated Chinese calligraphy skills. Her heavy use of black was influenced by the ink painting tradition of her native cultures as well as Modernist painters like Pierre Soulages, Georges Mathieu, and Jackson Pollock whose works also feature black elements prominently. Lalan’s brushwork is meticulous yet loaded with strength — it is a kind of power that is reined in with control. Every brushstroke is full of energy as they expand outward in different directions. Amongst the chaotic movements in the picture, order can be seen established. The artist consciously sought inspirations from ancient bronze cauldrons, rock steles, and ancient bronze script in order to visualise Chinese culture and civilisation in the picture. This treatment infuses the painting with the mystery of an ancient civilisation. As a professional dancer with an expert understanding of vocal performance and calligraphy, Lalan is the master of her physical form and extremities. Music from within her body guided her motions when she painted — it was an integral part of her artistic practice. Akin to music notation, the black lines orchestrated the tension in the piece, and they conduct a melody that is tenacious, spirited, majestic, and full of choreography-inspired elements. This work demonstrates the improvisational nature of Lalan’s art and how her multidisciplinary practice produced a breathtaking synergy that heightened the evocative power of this piece.

Blue Night is an exemplary work that demonstrates the heartfelt and impulsive expressions in Lalan’s early artistic output. Sombre tones and calligraphic scripts exude vitality, and the rhythmic composition fills the picture with exuberance. It is not hard for the viewers to imagine that the artist combined different aesthetics from dance, music, and painting to create such an animated work. Every brushstroke that audaciously crosses the canvas is galvanised with intent for self-expression, and she freely applied both Chinese and Western aesthetics as well as techniques. This work is a realisation of her early vision where abstract painting, calligraphy, dance, and music converge to form a unified artistic expression — it was a pivotal moment in history where there was an exchange between the
improvisational practices in both Western art and Chinese calligraphy. Blue Night is a quintessential work that epitomises the fusion of Eastern and Western art in the 1960s. The lyricism in this abstract work embodies the unbridled spirit of the era.

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