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    Sale 12515

    Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)

    28 May 2016, Convention Hall

  • Lot 45

    ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, 1920-2013)

    May-September 1992

    Price Realised  


    ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, 1920-2013)
    May-September 1992
    signed in Chinese; signed ‘ZAO’ (lower right); signed, titled, dated and inscribed 'ZAO WOU-KI Mai-Sept. 1992 260 x 200 cm.’ (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    260 x 200 cm. (102 3/8 x 78 3/4 in.)
    Painted in 1992

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    “I paint my life but also want to paint an invisible space, a dream space, a place that makes people feel peaceful, even though it is using a form full of contradicted and volatile force.” - Zao Wou-Ki

    Zao Wou-Ki’s style of painting gradually took on a lighter and more airy atmosphere in the late 1970s, and the transition was partly because he began practicing Chinese ink-wash painting again, with the change also revealing the maturity and confidence of the artist’s inner world. The paintings he created during this era differ from the intense and thick overlapping oil and intricate brushstrokes executed with powerful vigour observed in his artworks from the 50s and 60s. Zao began focusing on techniques such as pigment mixing, colour application and coordination, taking into consideration how to use oil to create ink-like effects such as washes, splatters, spreading, and permeation. During the mid-1980s (Fig.1), he began to show an increasing preference for simple, pure colour scheme, focusing on achieving a pure and flowy etherealness with colour. MAY-SEPTEMBER 1992 (Lot 45) is a quintessentially iconic painting from Zao’s later oeuvre, which showcases a strong sense of this ink-wash atmosphere.

    From 1986 to 1993, Zao painted two works as homage to Henri Matisse (Fig. 1, 2). He said, "After seeing Porte-fenetre à Collioures by Matisse, I tried to combine man and nature in one. A metaphorical window opens a path from pure colour to infinity." The colour structure of MAY-SEPTEMBER 1992 can be broadly divided into five layers: At the top of the painting is a large and dense area in the colour of midnight blue with amass-ink effects, and it is followed by a blend of pale pastel blue and light taupe, resulting in a sense of space that is bright and vast. A vibrant emerald green is the subsequent colour used, and then a bright and opaque yellow with splashes of green comes after. At the bottom left corner is a bright block of white with ink black outlines and speckles of light blue and maroon. A dynamically contrasting and also fluid structure is formed by the variations resulted from the colours bleeding and blending into each other, with richly textural and intricate effects created with layers of colour washes and dot-shaped splashes. This is done spontaneously and effortlessly; the elusive changes seemingly coming directly from sources of light and the colours.

    With the formation of a delicate natural imagery, Zao gave MAY-SEPTEMBER 1992 a sense of cohesiveness amidst multiple colours. At the same time, there also exists a relationship between the layers of colours, as they interconnect and form dialectical interactions with each other, challenging the viewer’s perceptions. As the background colours permeate through, the changing hues do not dictate the layers’ progression or retraction, and although each plane is juxtaposed next to each other and defined by distinct borders, the delicate transition between each layer of colour also further hints at the unknown space in the painting’s vastness, its depth, and the possibilities it holds for retransformation, resulting in the opening of a poetic space. MAY-SEPTEMBER 1992 subtly conveys feelings of “sunshine after the rain”, projecting an ethereal, pristine mistiness that is reminiscent of the atmospheres described in the following ancient Chinese poems: “Dark clouds hovering over the land, with white waves glistening on the field” or “Freshly washed by rain the rolling plain, no mist or dust as far as the eye can see”, evoking emotions of expansiveness and brightness. The composition, with vividly portrayed foreground, mid-ground, and background, resembles the style of Chinese landscape painting, and this is especially apparent with the light-coloured plane at the bottom which bears a resemblance to a white boulder that has been washed clean by the rain (Fig.4). At the same time, this spatial structure is conceived simply with an abstract relationship between colours. French Poet René Char wrote the following words to express his appreciation for Zao’s artworks, which also aptly illustrate this point, "[his paintings are] ethereal and down-to-earth and the same time. Looking at the roiling sceneries set before us, we see a sea of infinite possibilities constantly generating new meaning. It is like looking at a vibrant landscape at dusk, at the precise moment when the last rays of sunshine, faint and fleeting, pierce our perception with the most poignant sense of beauty."

    Beyond Zao’s notable style that unfolded amidst the influx of Western abstractionism, his achievement in art was made more exceptional due to his profound insights and innovative interpretations of Chinese landscape aesthetics. He left behind a prolific and extraordinary oeuvre from his six-decade long art career, validating the artist’s resolve and unremitting pursuit of art, and also brings to light how this challenging exploratory journey of fusing together Chinese and Western aesthetics had ultimately guided Zao to return to his inner state of mind, his origin to seek for a sense of completeness, with this origin encompassing both culture and nature. It embodies hundreds of years of Chinese tradition with art, and it also transcends time, while perpetually pointing to the moment’s most authentic experience. It is because of this simple beauty that MAY-SEPTEMBER 1992 is so strikingly touching.


    Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva, Switzerland
    Private Collection, Switzerland
    Anon. sale; Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 9 October 2006, Lot 1615
    Private Collection, Asia

    This work is referenced in the archive of the Foundation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonné prepared by Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Foundation Zao Wou-Ki).

    Pre-Lot Text



    Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Zao Wou-Ki Retrospective, Taipei, Taiwan, 1993. (illustrated, cover, p.92)
    Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo, Fundacion Cultural Televisa, Zao Wou-Ki : Cuarenta Años de Pintura (1954-1994) (exh.cat.), Mexico City, Mexico, 1994 (illustrated, plate 29, p. 110)
    Pierre Daix, Zao Wou-Ki L’œuvre 1935-1993, Editions Ides et Calendes, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1994 (illustrated, p. 183)
    Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki (exh.cat), Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 1995 (illustrated, plate 85, p. 230)
    Hong Kong Museum of Art, Infinite Image and Space : A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki (exh. cat), Hong Kong, China, 1996 (illustrated, p. 188 -189)
    Musée des Beaux-Arts, Zao Wou-Ki. Rétrospective de l'oeuvre peinte (exh.cat), Angers, France, 1998 (illustrated, plate 27, p.59)
    Shanghai Museum of Arts, Zao Wou-Ki 60 ans de peinture 1935-1998 (exh.cat), Shanghai, China, 1998 (illustrated, plate 87, p. 237)
    Yves Bonnefoy & Gérard de Cortanze, Zao Wou-Ki, La Difference/Enrico Navarra, Paris, France, 1998 (illustrated, p. 263)
    Noël Bernard, Zao Wou-Ki - Grand Formats, Éditions Cercle d’Art, Paris, 2000 (illustrated, plate 71)
    Instituto Valencio de Arte Moderno (IVAM), Centre Julio Gonzalez, Zao Wou-Ki (exh. cat), Valencia, Spain, 2001 (illustrated, p. 66)
    Jean-Luc Chalumeau, Zao Wou-Ki : Ce qui est abstrait pour vous est réel pour moi, Cercle d'Art, Paris, France, 2001 (illustrated, plate 43)
    Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Zao Wou-Ki (exh. cat), Paris, France, 2003 (illustrated, p. 152)
    José Frèches, Zao Wou-Ki. Works, writings, interviews, Editions Hazan, Paris, France, 2007 (illustrated, p. 128)


    Mexico City, Mexico, Fundacion Cultural Televisa, Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo, Zao Wou-Ki: Cuarenta Años de Pintura (1954-1994), 1994.
    Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, 1995.
    Hong Kong, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Infinite Image and Space: A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, 1996.
    Angers, France, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Zao Wou-Ki. Rétrospective de l'oeuvre peinte, 1998.
    Shanghai, China, Shanghai Museum; Beijing, China, National Art Museum of China; Guangdong, Guangdong Museum of Art, Zao Wou-Ki: 60 ans de peinture, 1935-1998, 1998-1999.
    Valencia, Spain, Instituto Valencio de Arte Moderno (IVAM), Centre Julio Gonzalez, Zao Wou-Ki, 2001.
    Paris, France, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Zao Wou-Ki, 2003.