Victor Vasarely (1906-1997)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
Victor Vasarely (1906-1997)

Zèbres (Zebras)

Victor Vasarely (1906-1997)
Zèbres (Zebras)
signed 'VASARELY' (lower right)
oil on canvas
43¾ x 40½in. (111 x 102.9cm.)
Painted in 1932-1942
Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist).
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s London, 21 October 2003, lot 333.
Robert Sandelson Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005.
M. Joray (ed.), Vasarely, Neuchâtel 1969, p. 192, no. 77 (illustrated, p. 69; listed with incorrect dimensions).
Paris, Galerie Denise René, Vasarely, 1955 (illustrated).
London, Robert Sandelson Modern and Contemporary British and International Art, Victor Vasarely in Black and White, 2005, p. 14 (illustrated in colour, p. 15).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
Post lot text
Please note this work has been requested for the following exhibition, Compton Verney, Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception.

The authenticity of the present work has been confirmed by Pierre Vasarely. The work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint de Victor Vasarely, which is currently being compiled by the Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence.

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Lot Essay

‘I am opting for a world-view according to which “good and evil”, “beautiful and ugly” and “physical and psychological” are inseparable, complimentary opposites, two sides of the same coin. Therefore black and white means to transmit and propagate messages more effectively, to inform, to give. Black and white, yes and no; black and white, dot and dash: binary units’ —V. VASARELY

‘[In 1961] Riley saw reproductions of work by Vasarely for the first time, and realised that her own work had long been anticipated by this master’ —M. DE SAUSMAREZ

One of the foundational images of the Op Art movement, Victor Vasarely’s Zèbres (Zebras) is a pivotal early work that proclaimed the birth of a radical new artistic language. Executed over a ten year period between 1932 and 1942, it belongs to a landmark group of black and white studies in which Vasarely took his first steps towards kinetic abstraction. Alongside harlequins, tigers, Martians and chessboards, the zebras transform their figurative subjects into a quivering mass of optical distortion. Narrowing and bending his stripes towards the centre of the canvas, Vasarely creates a powerful centrifugal vortex that agitates the retina and generates the illusion of movement. Up close, the surface is thick with impasto, spiked with streaks of yellow and purple that divide and animate the black and white strips. From a distance, all ties to representation dissolve, liquefying the zebras into a dizzying abstract blur. Informed by Vasarely’s early work as a graphic designer in Paris, and highly influenced by his affiliations with the teachings of the Bauhaus, these works reflect the Zeitgeist of a world animated by developments in cinema and space travel. As the film industry exploded and rockets defied gravity, movement became the final frontier in art. Twenty years earlier, Malevich’s Black Square had liberated art from traditional notions of representation; now, Vasarely sought to free it from its static condition, releasing it into what he termed ‘plastic space’. His early monochromatic experiments would have a profound impact not only on his subsequent oeuvre, but also on the international development of Op Art. Predating Bridget Riley’s black and white compositions by almost three decades, Zèbres represents a pioneering recalibration of pictorial space that would continue to reverberate throughout the twentieth century.

As a child, Vasarely spent hours drawing grids and linear networks – a body of work that would later form the basis of his Naissances. In 1925, after graduating from high school, he worked at a pharmaceuticals company where, alongside a series of administrative roles, he drew panels for the company’s window displays. One day, a Bauhaus advertisement in the newspaper piqued his interest, and in 1929 he enrolled in Alexandre Bortnyik’s ‘Mühely’ (‘Studio’) where he studied graphic design. As technicolour became the new benchmark for cinema, Vasarely was conversely drawn to the binary simplicity of black and white as a springboard for his optical investigations. ‘I am opting for a world-view according to which “good and evil”, “beautiful and ugly” and “physical and psychological” are inseparable, complimentary opposites, two sides of the same coin’, he explained. ‘Therefore black and white means to transmit and propagate messages more effectively, to inform, to give’ (V. Vasarely, Notes Brutes, New York 1979). Whilst Malevich was influential in this regard, Vasarely felt that the Russian master had fundamentally reached a dead end: having stripped art down to its most basic planar form, where was left for it to go? His solution was to rotate the square in three dimensions: to spin it on its axis, to trim its corners, to observe it from all angles – in short, to liberate it from the flat surface of the canvas and conceive of it anew as a mobile web of infinite spatial possibilities. As his practice progressed, this new perspective would bring his graphic sensibilities in line with conceptual models drawn from the fields of psychology, physics and astronomy. In Zèbres, we witness the beginning of a journey that would redefine visual art as a gateway to the workings of the universe.

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