ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION
ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)

Port - 29.04.52

Details
ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
Port - 29.04.52
signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘ZAO 52’ (lower right), signed and inscribed 'ZAO WOU-KI 73 x 84 cm' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
73.5 x 92.5 cm (28 7/8 x 36 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1951-1952
Provenance
Private Collection, France
Private Collection, Europe

This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki.
Literature
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Hier et Demain Editions, Paris, France and Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated, plate 23, pp. 64-65).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, USA, 1979 (illustrated, plate 23, pp. 64-65).
Zao Wou-Ki, National Museum of History, Tainan Municipal Cultural Center, Taichung Provincial Library, Taiwan, 1983 (illustrated,
unpaged).
Ingres Museum, Zao Wou-Ki ou se libérer du connu, exh. cat., Montauban, France, 1983 (illustrated, unpaged).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Editions Cercle d’Art, Paris, France et Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelone, Espagne, 1986 (illustrated, plate 23, pp. 64-65).
Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Zao Wou-Ki Retrospective, exh. cat., Taipei, Taiwan, 1993 (illustrated, p. 45).
Pierre Daix, Zao Wou-Ki. L'oeuvre 1935-1993, Edition Iles et Calendes, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1994 (illustrated, p. 25 and p. 73).
Pierre Daix, Zao Wou-Ki, Edition Iles et Calendes, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1996 (illustrated, p. 19).
Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, exh. cat., Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 1996 (illustrated, p. 32 and p. 100).
Hong Kong Museum of Art, Urban Council of Hong Kong, Infinite Image and Space - A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, exh. cat., Hong
Kong, 1996 (illustrated, plate 20, p. 75).
Shanghai Joint Publishing, Zao Wou-Ki 60 ans de peintures (1935-1998), exh. cat., Shanghai, China, 1998 (illustrated, plate 21, p. 93).
Yves Bonnefoy, Gerard de Cortanze, Zao Wou-Ki, Editions La Difference, Paris, France, 1998 (illustrated, p. 76).
Roger Lesgards (ed.), Edition Le Cherche Midi, Zao Wou-Ki. Couleurs et Mots, Paris, France, 1998 (illustrated, p. 27).
Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, Zao Wou-Ki, exh. cat., Valencia, Spain, May-July 2001 (illustrated, p. 46).
Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Zao Wou-Ki, exh. cat., Paris, France, 2003 (illustrated, p. 64).
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Zao Wou-Ki, une quete du silence, exh. cat., Dunkerque, France, 2004 (illustrated, plate 29, p. 44).
Bridgestone Museum of Art, Zao Wou-Ki, exh. cat., Tokyo, Japan, 2004-2005 (illustrated, plate 15, pp. 62-63).
Pierre Daix, Zao Wou-Ki, Edition Iles et Calendes, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2013 (illustrated, p. 15).
F. Marquet-Zao & Y. Hendgen (ed.), Flammarion, Catalogue raisonné des peintures Zao Wou-Ki Volume 1 1935-1958, Paris, France, 2019 (illustrated, plate P-0274, p. 144 & p. 295).
Exhibited
Rome, Italy, Galleria dell’Obelisco, Zao Wou-Ki, December 1953.
Essen, Germany, Folkwang Museum, Zao Wou-Ki, January-February 1965.
Taipei, Taiwan, National Museum of History, January 1983.
Montauban, France, Ingres Museum, Zao Wou-Ki ou se libérer du connu, October 1983.
Taipei, Taiwan, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Zao Wou-Ki Retrospective, February-May 1993.
Kaoshiung, Taiwan, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, January-April 1996.
Hong Kong, Museum of Art, Infinite Image and Space. A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, May-July 1996.
Shanghai, China, Shanghai Museum, Zao Wou-Ki. 60 Years of Paintings (1935-1998), November 1998-January 1999.
This exhibition later travelled to Beijing, China, National Art Museum of China, February-March 1999; Guangzhou, China, Guangzhou Museum of Art, April-June 1999.
Paris, France, Petit Palais Paris Fine Art Museum, Chine la gloire des empereurs - Volet contemporain, November 2000-January 2001.
Valencia, Spain, Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, Zao Wou-Ki, May-July 2001. This exhibition later travelled to Brussels, Belgium, Ixelles Museum, July-September 2001.
Paris, France, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Zao Wou-Ki, October-December 2003.
Dunkerque, France, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Zao Wou-ki. Une quête du silence. Peintures, April-August 2004.
Tokyo, Japan, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ishibashi Foundation, Zao Wou-Ki, October 2004-January 2005.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡) Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

"Klee provided a new way of understanding nature, beyond the academic realm. It wasn’t so much his painting technique, but his way of seeing nature which was resolutely modern."
Zao Wou-Ki

Port (Harbour)-29.04.52 is a quintessential painting by Zao Wou- Ki from the 1950s, as it not only stands at the crossroads of Eastern and Western technique and aesthetic alike, but also magnificently displays his steady transition from figurative to abstract painting. While Zao Wou-Ki painted many paintings of boats, this painting here is one of five depicting an industrial harbour, and the second one only to be offered at auction. Here, the use of intense and deep splashes of colour throughout the composition balances out with the harsh carving lines used to depict loading cranes, resulting in a poetic effervescent landscape. Extensively published and exhibited as early as 1953 in Rome, the painting later travelled for exhibitions throughout Europe and Asia late into the 20th Century, as an exemplary work from the early 1950s.

At first glance, the sea dominates the composition with the extensive use of deep lapis lazuli blue, as what appears to be a central block which gradually disperses as it reaches the left and right edges. However, when looking more closely, Zao Wou-Ki masterfully applies colour with subtle touches so that different elements of the composition intertwine with one another to challenge the viewer’s eye : touches of bright red transpire through the boats’ sails on the one hand and reflect on or through the water on the other hand, the boundary between land and sea ceases to exist such that cranes seem to be floating in the distance, and the boats’ hulls are neither resting on top of the water nor are they submerged. A multitude of details appear throughout the painting encouraging the viewer to question what is really being depicted. Are we witnessing a sunset? Is the harbour hard at work or resting? What is the role of the faint human figures present throughout the composition?

Dominique de Villepin very accurately illustrates Zao Wou-Ki’s unique approach: “The landscapes painted by Zao Wou-Ki are inhabited by a holistic conception of nature, they do not brutally distinguish kingdoms and do not radically separate man from them. [...] Man is always present in the landscape as if he were the pendant, the missing piece. […] Zao Wou-Ki brings a very Chinese intuition of nature’s humanity into a European tradition that has learned to isolate nature to allow a dramatic face-to-face with the human spectator.” While Port (Harbour)-29.04.52 displays a European landscape in its subject, it however captures Zao’s Eastern training, where small human figures become part of a monumental landscape, itself engulfed by an omnipresent cloud of colour. Zhang Daqian replicated years later this technique into his splash ink landscapes.

Following the European custom of the Grand Tour, popularized in the 17th to 18th century, Zao embarked on a European Grand Tour of his own in 1950, travelling across France, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and more. The exposure to European art, architecture, and harbours made a lasting impression on Zao, which inspired him to document a visual diary and encouraged his artistic exploration with lines and perspective.

Although Zao Wou-Ki was familiar with Klee’s work as early as 1945, however, his discovery “in person” of Klee’s work in Switzerland in 1951 during his travels definitely triggered Zao’s transition to abstraction. It is no surprise that Port (Harbour)-29.04.52 displays influence of Paul Klee in his treatment of figures and boats: the composition is filled with intricate visual conflicts, which when pieced together, fabricates a story that allows one to immerse completely inside of Zao’s mindscape, and admire the artist’s interpretation of Eastern and Western philosophy and his technical virtuosity.

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