Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2019 Autumn Auctions
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Georges Mathieu (1921-2012)
Hommage à Watteau(Painted in 1974)

Oil on canvas

150 x 500 cm. 59 x 196 7/8in.

Signed in English on bottom right

1977, Pèlerinage à Watteau, Hôtel de la Monnaie, Paris, P461-463
2006, Hommage à Mathieu, Edition Galerie Elegance, Taipei, cover page and p. 66-67
6 Jul – 31 Oct 1977, Pèlerinage à Watteau, Monnaie de, Paris
16 – 30 Dec 2006, Hommage à Mathieu, Galerie Elegance Taipei

Acquired directly by original European collector from the artist
Important Private Collection, Asia

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued and signed by the artist

Totem of Dynasty, Reform of Aesthetics
Hommage à Watteau: An Epic Work in the 1970s by Georges Mathieu

In 1958, the Surrealist poet Alain Bosquet hailed Mathieu's paintings as “the most intricate and incisive in contemporary art”. Thirty years later, Le Figaro called him the prophet of art. As early as the 1940s, Mathieu already drew from geometry, music and literature and progressively captured the potential of calligraphy in abstractionist painting, underscoring the spontaneity and abrupt power of art. He brought surrealist imagination and execution to Western abstract art and pioneered integrating both the contour and connotations of Chinese calligraphy into Western art. His contributions are in parallel to the localization efforts of his Chinese counterparts, including Lin Fengmian, Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh-Chun. Their mutually reinforcing endeavour in the globalizing context has blazed a path that features lyrical abstraction with calligraphic elements.

Pioneer of Lyrical Abstraction
In 1945, Mathieu beat Jackson Pollock, the leading figure of American abstract art, to using the dripping technique. He presented his first abstract series at Salon des Moins de Trente Ans in the following year. In 1947, the art critic Jean José Marchand described Mathieu's works exhibited at the fourteenth Salon des Surindépendants as “Lyrical Abstraction”. Inspired by the term, Mathieu set up the first Lyrical Abstractionist group L'Imaginaire and gathered together 14 avant-garde painters, including Hans Hartung and Jean-Paul Riopelle, for the first exhibition on Abstract Lyricism. He also brought back Abstract Expressionism from New York to Paris to bridge the two capitals of art, which is a significant contribution that marks his dedication to artistic movement and his unshakable position in post-war abstract art.

“Calligraphy unlocked an important school of modern art – Abstract Expressionism.”
— Herbert Read, Art Historian

In the late 1940s, Mathieu got to know Sanyu, Zao Wou-Ki and his wife Xie Jinglan at Montparnasse. As they made close friends, Mathieu started incorporating oriental calligraphy and philosophy into his creation and established a new style of “calligraphy plus splashing” in 1951. “Enfin un calligraphe occidental!” exclaimed France's first Minister of Culture André Malraux in the 1960s after appreciating his works. Mathieu became a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts in 1975. As a globally prominent artist, he held over 200 exhibitions, four large-scale retrospective exhibitions throughout his life, and his paintings are held by over 100 top art museums across 17 countries.

A Visual Chanson:
The Artist's Largest Item Ever in Asian Auctions
At his career prime in the 1970s, Mathieu's paintings featured magnificence and elegance, and he was considered to be the official representative of French artists. Mathieu was also talented in graphic and architectural design. The most famous creation that rendered his works accessible to the widest audience was his design of 10-franc coin. 100 million copies were minted between 1974 and 1987. Based on the historically significant design, Mathieu produced Hommage à Watteau that is offered at the auction. As the artist's largest item ever in Asian auctions, this 5-meter-long painting is full of colour spurts that add to its vigour. The powerful energy unleashed by the visually appealing painting qualifies Mathieu for the icon of Western Lyrical Abstraction.

As Mathieu was obsessed with the glory of then Kingdom of France, French cultural symbols are the most widely seen components in his paintings, especially in Hommage à Watteau.

The main colours find their way back to the striped blue-white-red national flag of France—an embodiment of the French spirit. The pattern on the right is based on the aforementioned coin design. Its hexagonal shape represents France's territorial contour. The centripetal lines pointing to Paris at the centre are like light beams that emit dazzling light. This is the only piece that includes a complete reproduction of the classic design, a precious manifestation of his devotion to the country.

Homage to Watteau
After outlining the vast expanse of France's territory, Mathieu thought of incorporating elements of the 18th century, including Rococo, which emerged over that period, and Watteau, a leading figure in French art who epitomized the glorious days of the former Kingdom. The pyramidal composition of Hommage à Watteau echoes that of Fêtes galantes, a classical piece of Watteau. The S curve that links the two sides is a distinctive feature of Rococo art. “Freedom is emptiness,” said Mathieu. The blank space at the centre may remind the viewer of the freedom-loving white-clothed actor in Watteau's The Italian Comedians. Mathieu was nostalgic for the heyday of the French Kingdom and more importantly its underlying purity, which was aligned with his lifelong pursuit of untrammelled creation.

The Beauty of Speed
As early as the 1950s, Mathieu pioneered introducing performative dimension to his painting. This far-reaching innovation has inspired Allan Kaprow's Art Happenings and Yves Klein's Anthropometry series, and provided the key impetus to the then fledgling Japanese Gutai movement.
Mathieu was a fast painter with exceptional creativity and absolute confidence. He painted directly out of the tube in a speedy and spontaneous manner to express the bursts of his inner feelings, a technique that makes his paintings full of dramatic intensity. In the expansive space of Hommage à Watteau, layers of horizontal short strokes are teeming with vigour with traces of abstract art, and the vertical paint drips carry uncontrollable power. When the two dimensions meet, they discharge glaring light like the knight medal.

Thinking Before Painting
Localizing Eastern Calligraphy
“The mission of artists is to create, not to copy and paste. Speed and spontaneity allow us to make sense of abstract shapes as free-flowing Eastern calligraphy,” explained Mathieu his unique creation process. The artist tended to think carefully before he painted, which was somewhat consistent with the think-before-you-write philosophy in Chinese calligraphy. The cloud-like magenta paint, as it travels across the sky, gradually transforms into elegant purple curves. The calligraphic lines, similar to those of Huaisu, meander across the canvas like a fast-moving dragon, which may remind the viewer of the vitality of Chen Rong's Five Dragons. The painting has reproduced the grandeur of monarchy and witnessed the prime days of the artist's career.

Price estimate:
HKD: 5,000,000 – 8,000,000
USD: 637,500 – 1,020,000

Auction Result:
HKD: --



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