(ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, 1920-2013)
Guitare (Guitar)
signed in Chinese; signed 'ZAO' (lower right); signed 'ZAO WOU-Ki' (on stretcher bar); titled and dated 'guitare X.53' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
59.2 x 91 cm. (23 5/16 x 35 13/16 in.)
Painted in 1953
Galerie Pierre Loeb, Paris, France
Acquired from the above in the early 1950s, and thence by descent to the present owner
Sale room notice
Please note the correct estimate should read as:

Estimate: HK$5,500,000 - 7,500,000
US$705,100 - 961,500

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Lot Essay

Zao Wou-ki was born into a family of academics who owned an extensive calligraphy and painting collection that triggered his interest in art from an early age. In 1935, he was admitted to the Hangzhou School of Art, and studied under the masters Wu Dayu and Lin Fengmian who introduced him to both Chinese abstract art and Western abstractionism. He learned, internalized and combined the two schools which became the seed of his own creations. In 1948, he went to France and became acquainted with many contemporary artists as well as writer and painter Henri Michaux and art dealer Pierre Loeb. Gradually he became part of the Western contemporary art scene and started being recognized for his unique aesthetics that merge Eastern and Western traditions.
Zao's earlier works are mostly naturalistic portrait and landscape paintings. After moving to France, he began to learn about the works of Western artists like Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. From the 1950s onward, Zao slowly moved away from natural representation to abstraction. Guitare (Guitar) (Lot 6) represents Zao's earlier transition into abstraction. Zao essentialized the details and textures of the subject and the accuracy of its contour. He removes the sense of depth by simplifying three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional one, much like Cézanne and Cubist artists who extracted geometric shapes from objects and produced captivating images. Georges Braque's guitar painting uses lines to dissect the human figure and guitar which are then shuffled and reorganized within the paining. Similarly, Picasso also uses a combination of dots, lines and surfaces with multiple vantage points to depict the guitar on one plane, forming a depth-reduced space. Zao's Guitare is not as abstract as those of Braque and Picasso as his depiction of the guitar and desk still has Realist elements, and is therefore more like Cézanne's approach.
Surrealism also had an impact on Zao, who was very aware of this new development in the art world. Surrealism, influenced by Sigmund Freud's theories on human psychology, attempted to discover the unconscious mind by breaking away from the control of rationality in order to liberate the soul and mind. Surrealist painters were divided into two camps - Organic and Narrative. Organic Surrealism, led by Joan Miró and André Masson was characterised by automatist techniques and focused on the process of creating spontaneously using amorphous, organic imagery. Narrative Surrealism, represented by Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy and René Magritte, depicted detailed, recognizable forms in distorted imaginative space, creating a hallucinatory and contradictory world.
In Guitare, Zao uses diluted oil paint to lead his viewers into a surreal, imaginative dream-like setting. He employs Chinese ink painting techniques of colour-splashing with dark, mysterious tones and dry-spotting to produce a similar misty effect to the floating clouds in the Southern Song dynasty landscape paintings. The yellow leaf-like and the black branch-like object in the upper part of the image are like organisms floating in a shapeless space of changing colours. Zao successfully incorporated the organic-abstract element of the West and the mysterious, symbolic flavor of the East.
After years of exploration and experimentation, Zao's technique became more mature, as he translated the Western abstractionism into his own unique language, with a strong foundation in oriental art. His transformation added elements from traditional Chinese calligraphy. Lines and colour block to create both fullness and emptiness, enlivening the image's pictorial layers. The canvas resembles a music score with his Chinese calligraphic brushstrokes, and dancing notes with his upward and downward strokes, demonstrating an oriental style which distinguished it from Western abstract artists.

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