(ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, B. 1920)
signed 'Wou-Ki ZAO' in Chinese & Pinyin (lower right); signed 'ZAO Wou-Ki' in Pinyin; dated '18.Avril.50' in French (on the reverse)
oil on panel
46 x 32.8 cm. (18 1/8 x 12 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1950
Private Collection, Europe

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Lot Essay

In 1948, Zao Wou-Ki arrived in Paris with great expectation and passion for creativity. At that time, abstract painting had already been established in the art circle and avant-garde artists were ceaselessly exploring new areas and expressive styles. Such environment served as a constant stimulation and inspiration to Zao. He described this period as "a dark age that was completely filled with melancholy and confusion K in order to search for the lost language, and to discover the best condition to express this language, I worked extremely hard". Works from this period are precious not only because of their rarity, but also because they are testimonies of the time of exploration, struggle and innovation underwent by the artist making his debut into the art scene. Zao has once talked about his works from the late 1940s, "during that time, the influence from ancient Chinese art, especially Han relief, started to appear."

In 18.04.50 (Lot 102) dated from 1950, trees, houses, animals and fish are depicted in refined lines with sharp turning edges, revealing a primal scene in great simplicity. Although these painted animals and fish still possess sensible forms, they are almost blended in the background, a visual metaphor of the non-existence. Zao encountered Paul Klee's works in Bern Switzerland the next year, and strongly resonated with his paintings which projected an exuberant oriental mood. Ever since the 1950s, line has been an important formal element in Zao Wou-Ki's works, including the figurative still life and landscapes with clear contour, from his Klee-influenced period, to the symbolic calligraphic motifs developed in mid-1950s. After 1958, the narrative contents were further reduced in Zao's works. His lines began to exhibit more pure and absolute expressiveness.

Painted in 1969, 16.05.69 (Lot 103) is one of the most characteristic examples showing Zao's elevation to pure abstraction. Broad strokes in ink and colour painted looming layers in the background, reflecting the artist's search for spiritual realization and nature's rhythm. As Zao described, "these motifs took on shapes, while the space started to form in the background, through repetition, wiping out and renewal, something deep in my mind began to surface." While the colour starts to fade, the scenery gradually recedes into a void reminiscent of the misty, hazy mountain landscapes. Zao further simplified the images to create a deeper and more mysterious space, reflecting artist's observation of a nature in which "the universe and human are one". The unrestricted spatial composition embodies Zao Wou-ki's own experience and understanding towards the nature, universe and the essence of life, hence offering a visual experience that fosters infinite aesthetic imagination among viewers.

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