Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013)
Transcending Form: An Important Asian Private Collection
Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013)

Jardin de Mon Père (My Father's Garden)

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013)
Jardin de Mon Père (My Father's Garden)
signed in Chinese , signed and dated 'ZAO 55' (lower right)
oil on canvas
38 x 46 cm. (15 x 18 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1955
Galerie de France, Paris, France
Private Collection, France
Galerie Pascal Lansberg, Paris, France
Anon. sale, Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2 April 2012, Lot 527
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
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 Francoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Foundation Zao Wou-Ki).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Documentation by Fran?oise Marquet, Hier et Demain Editions, Paris, France and Ediciones Pol?grafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated, plate 40, page 84).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, USA, 1979 (illustrated, plate 40, page 84).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris France and Ediciones Pol?grafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1986 (illustrated, plate 40, page 84).

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Lot Essay

As the eldest son, Zao Wou-Ki and his father were always emotionally close. Although his father, Zao Han-seng, was a banker, he nonetheless had a profound education in liberal arts. He taught his knowledge of painting and calligraphy to his children, and guided Zao Wou-Ki in his childhood to learn to appreciate the beauty of his surroundings, with his own garden often being the source of this aesthetic schooling. Zao's father's hobby was gardening, and all around the house, front or back there had to be a small garden, and thus Jardin de Mon P?re (My Father's Garden) (Lot 30) created in 1955 is replete with Zao Wou-Ki's reminiscences of his bygone childhood days (Fig. 1).
From approximately 1954, Zao retreated from painting Klee-style symbolic vocabulary, and freed himself from his bondage to the external shapes of objects. He began to search for his own spirituality, seeking to find expression from within strokes and to import a new sense of colour from poetic nature. Jardin de Mon P?re (My Father's Garden) - though small - contains a surging vigour and momentum, in which oracle bone symbolism is still visible and where Zao Wou-Ki's resounding brush tip completes one textured line, then two more to form a forking branch, while three produce a blast of wind in colours that seem weighty, yet also vivid. Zao Wou-Ki draws upon the force generated by the interaction of calligraphic virtualism and realism and, within the clamour of this raging movement, intricate details are clearly discernible amid its majestic sweep.
Zao Wou-Ki's works of this period are mostly turbid and heavy, with a set of dark lines infused with an elegiac mood predominating (Fig. 2). The tone green covering the complete picture plane does not commonly appear in the course of his artistic career, especially during the period of his attempted transition from an abstract to a lyrical abstract form from 1954 to 1962, with Green Forest (Fig. 3) being the only one of such created in 1953-1954. The green in Jardin de Mon P?re (My Father's Garden) is uniquely alluring; its closely-set levels impart to every inch of the canvas a sense of the wonders of creation; these split after their rendition, with the resulting cleavages thereafter reorganising into new forms. The elegant and charming background colour tone dominating the entire work - from outside to inside - displays a mossy shade, with baby maize, grass green and pale yellow colours appearing in graduated layers. Superimposed fine colours coalesce into a whirlpool at the heart, ushering the viewer into an exploration of the garden's centre, and into an ultramarine and white world, where the sudden glimpse of a small red ochre stone elicits a knowing smile. This lush little garden attests to Zao Wou-Ki's accurate grasp of the colour relations and interactions between the two lines of rhythm.
The visual power of Jardin de Mon Père (My Father's Garden), in addition to inducing a reverie with its colours and delicate, firm strokes, inheres even more in the blending of all of its objective themes. Zao Wou-Ki is averse to his viewers considering his art as mere scenery or landscapes, since these definitions are too narrow. As he said: 'There is no boundary in Monet's paintings between objects, nature and air. In Water Lilies, everything blends into a whole.' Boundaries blur, imaginary space broadens, and emotions naturally break out of their confinement to direct viewers' eyes and hearts (Fig. 4). Zao Wou-Ki's paintings reflect his experiences and become his 'emotional indicators.' A great artist is such not only because of his outstanding technique, but because his paintings can drive directly into the hearts of people a secret treasure long forgotten.

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