Lalan - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Thursday, December 3, 2020 | Phillips

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  • “A painter of our era, but with oriental influence, and of Chinese inspiration: I remain both Chinese and contemporary.”— Lalan


    Born Xie Jinglan, nicknamed “Lan Lan”, and then, finally “Lalan”, Lalan was a multidisciplinary artist trained across various art forms including ink, calligraphy, painting, music, and dance. Excelling in all such categories, Lalan united these fields in her artistic practice to create an oeuvre that epitomised “synthesised art”. So adept was she at this synthesis that the French Ministry of Culture awarded Lalan a special grant to research and promote this very category in 1973, and eventually her works would go on to become part of the collections of the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Centre Pompidou, amongst others.


    The Early Years


    Lalan was born in Guizhou in 1921 into a family of scholars: her father was adroit in Traditional Chinese literati along with Chinese and Western music, and her grandfather too was a famous scholar. When she turned seven, Lalan’s family moved to Shanghai, and soon after to neighbouring Hangzhou, where the artist enrolled in the Music Department of the Hangzhou School of Art in 1937. There, she went on to meet Zao Wou-Ki whom she married in 1941, and in 1948, the pair set sail for Marseilles with their eyes set on Paris.

    Lalan, Philtre, 1969
    Collection of the the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris

    On the same day that they arrived in Paris, the young couple immediately visited the Louvre, wasting no time in soaking up their new environs with a voracity that would fuel their later artistic passions. They soon became captivated by the French metropolis, and settled into a studio in Montparnasse, where they would make the acquaintance of figures such as Pierres Soulages, Georges Mathieu, Alberto Giacometti, Sanyu, as well as the poet Henri Michaux— the latter of whom would be instrumental in introducing Lalan to the electronic composer Edgard Varése.

    In her early years in Paris, Lalan immersed herself in music composition and dance, having enrolled at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, and later went on to study modern dance and avant-garde electronic music at the American Cultural Centre. For the most part of the decade following her arrival in Paris, Lalan was predominantly a music composer and dancer, while Zao’s initial years in the French capital were dedicated to his oil painting. It would not be until after her divorce from Zao in 1956, that Lalan would begin painting the following year in 1957.


    An Abstract Artist in her Own Right


    “I came to know something about modern paintings from my former partner. The moment I stopped being a muse for him, I found myself unable to live without painting.”— Lalan


    The art critic Robert Hughes once wrote of the female artists in the forties and fifties in America:

    'Women artists through the forties and into the fifties in New York City were the victims of a sort of cultural apartheid, and the ruling assumptions about the inherent weakness, derivativeness and silly femininity of women painters were almost unbelievably phallocentric.' i Perhaps obscured under the long shadow cast by her former husband Zao Wou-Ki, Lalan joins the ranks of other post-war female artists relegated to the title of merely being wives of famous husbands, calling to mind artists such as Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Elaine de Kooning, all of whom only received the accolades and recognitions they deserved decades after their original breakthroughs in their youth.


    Lalan, Untitled, 1958-1959, mixed media on paper

    In 1957, Lalan returned to China for the first time since her departure with Zao in 1948, and in 1958, she marries the musician-sculptor Marcel Van Thienen. During this period of renewal between 1957-1959, the artist’s oeuvre was filled with a series of abstract gouache works, wherein the colours black, vermillion, and blue featured prominently. In these early works, one can detect Lalan’s mastery of calligraphy and watercolour to create undulating, organic forms resembling oceans or fire. Not long after, the artist would forego gouache and move almost exclusively to oil.

    “(T)he movement in painting is driven by the voice and action in the body,”— Lalan


    The Sixties: Music, Dance & Painting


    For Lalan, the sixties was certainly a time of change, filled with ardent creative energy: the artist created performances for Karine Weahner’s modern ballet group in Paris, dubbed background music for Rita Roitman’s dance group’s performance at the Kaufmann Concert Hall in New York, and worked with Christ Marker and Jacques Veinat in composing film scores, all of which were experiences in composition that influenced many of her later works.


    As a painter, Lalan had her first solo exhibition at Galerie Creuze in Paris in 1960, in which early abstract works bearing remnants of bone and shell inscriptions, calligraphic touches, and bronze and stone carvings were exhibited. These works, all in darker and muted tones were early exemplars of the artist’s working method, in which she would pour and sprinkle blue and brown impasto first onto the canvas to create a base layer, and then interlace bold swathes of black and white that resembled calligraphic marks. Far from merely emulating Chinese calligraphy however, Lalan’s strokes functioned more as stylised and aestheticised versions of the characters, acting as potent symbols within her oeuvre rather than sheer recreations of the Chinese language.


    After the Rain, so titled in Danish, demonstrates the synthesis of Lalan’s music and dance and her infusion of Chinese calligraphic practices, and also presents one of her most enduring motifs: water. The present work’s melody, rhythm, and movement capture the elegance of dance, while the intertwining brown and black bouclé forms resemble all at once the coils of a Chinese character, or indeed a dancer’s ribbon stick. The work’s background also amalgamates her earlier styles with her new practices, featuring both oil paint and a technique reminiscent of ink wash to create a textured, almost grain-like effect. In its use of light and shadows, Efter Regnen further mimics the dispersing of grey clouds after the rain, underscoring a wealth of possible influences including Rembrandt’s shadowy landscapes. Several years after its completion, After the Rain was displayed and sold shortly after the 1971 show Lalan at Galerie Moderne Silkeborg in Denmark, a mark perhaps of the universality of the piece and its alluring movement.


    Lalan’s rich career was one that was as multifaceted as she was talented, encompassing her achievements as a painter, composer, musician, dancer, and poet. Having lived in France for almost half a century, her artwork reflected the dualities of her influences from both China and France.


    i Robert Hughes, quoted in ’Lee Krasner’, Nothing if not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists, 1990, unpaginated

    • Provenance

      Galerie Moderne, Denmark
      Private Collection, Denmark
      Christie's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2013, lot 3374
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Property from an Important American Collection


Efter Regnen (After the Rain)

signed and dated 'Lalan 68' on the reverse; further titled '"Efter regnen"' on the stretcher
oil on canvas
81 x 100 cm. (31 7/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1968.

Full Cataloguing

HK$750,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for HK$2,016,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

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

Hong Kong Auction 3 December 2020