Georges Mathieu - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Thursday, December 3, 2020 | Phillips

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  • "Georges Mathieu, the transatlantic painter I admire most." —Clement Greenberg, 1959

    One of the fathers of post-war European lyrical abstraction, Georges Mathieu was a groundbreaking artist and theorist whose work influenced a generation of artists around the world.


    Seeking more intuitive and organic forms of expression than his abstractionist predecessors, Mathieu published several manifestos to define his conception of a lyrical abstraction. He identified four conditions: 


    • primacy of speed of execution, to avoid the interference of the artist’s consciousness;

    • no pre-existing shapes, as the painter must not rely on any references at all;

    • no premeditated moves, as painting is not a cognitive process; 

    • an ecstatic state of mind, which would require the artist’s isolation and concentration.


    Kazuo Shiraga, Work II, 1958
    Collection of Hyōgo Prefectural Museum of Art © Mr. Hisao Shiraga

    Mathieu’s rapid and intuitive painting method is characterised by energetic, calligraphic paint strokes, with pigment often squeezed onto canvas straight from the paint tube. He also began painting in front of live audiences, predating the ‘living brush’ public performances of Yves Klein by many years. Clement Greenberg, the most influential art critic of the post-war period, called Mathieu ‘the strongest’ of European painters. In 1957 he was invited to Japan by Gutai’s co-founder Jiro Yoshihara, where he famously created 21 paintings in the short space of three days. The movement rejected traditional art styles in favor of performative immediacy (see for example the frantic canvases of Kazuo Shiraga painted with his feet), and the Gutai Manifesto of 1956 declared their artists’ admiration for both Mathieu and Jackson Pollock, whose work ‘seems to embody cries uttered out of matter, pigment and enamel’.


    Painted in the 1980-1990s, Aveux Obscurs (‘Obscure Confessions’) (lot 215 ) and Calvaire Vain (‘Vain Ordeal’) (lot 216 ) emanate the characteristic energy and decisive mark-making of Mathieu’s oeuvre. Refined over many decades, Mathieu’s preference for smaller canvases at this point in his career draws attention to the densely layered compositions, with a bold virtuoso strokes exploding across the surface and the traces of a loud, fearless expressionism that speak of a unique life lived unapologetically.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, France (acquired in the 1980s)
      Delon-Hoebanx, Paris, 8 November 2019, lot 241
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Property from an Important Private European Collection


Calvaire Vain

signed ‘Mathieu’ lower right; further titled "CALVAIRE VAIN" on the stretcher
oil on canvas
100 x 81 cm. (39 3/8 x 31 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1987-1991, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Comité Georges Mathieu.

Full Cataloguing

HK$650,000 - 850,000 

Sold for HK$1,008,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 4 December 2020