ZAO WOU-KI (1920-2013)
ZAO WOU-KI (1920-2013)
ZAO WOU-KI (1920-2013)
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This Lot has been sourced from overseas. When au… Read more
ZAO WOU-KI (1920-2013)

Le soir à l’Hôtel du Palais (Palace Hotel by night)

ZAO WOU-KI (1920-2013)
Le soir à l’Hôtel du Palais (Palace Hotel by night)
signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘sep 2004 ZAO 2004’ (lower right); signed and dated ‘ZAO Wou-Ki Sep 2004’ (on the reverse); titled and dated ‘Le soir, à l’Hotel du Palais, septembre 2004’ (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
130 x 195 cm. (51 1⁄8 X 76 3⁄4 in.)
Painted in 2004
Private collection, Europe (acquired directly from the artist)

This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonne prepared by Francoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki).
Albin Michel Editions, Zao Wou-Ki, Dans l’ultime bonheur de peindre, 2000-2010, Paris, 2012 (illustrated, p. 36-38).
Le Bellevue, Zao Wou-Ki: Peintures et encres de Chine, 1948-2005, exh. cat., Biarritz, Espace Bellevue, 2005 (illustrated, plate 50, p.93).
Biarritz, Espace Bellevue, Zao Wou-Ki, Peintures et Encres de Chine, 1948-2005, July-October 2005.
Special notice
This Lot has been sourced from overseas. When auctioned, such property will remain under “bond” with the applicable import customs duties and taxes being deferred unless and until the property is brought into free circulation in the PRC. Prospective buyers are reminded that after paying for such lots in full and cleared funds, if they wish to import the lots into the PRC, they will be responsible for and will have to pay the applicable import customs duties and taxes. The rates of import customs duty and tax are based on the value of the goods and the relevant customs regulations and classifications in force at the time of import.

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Lot Essay

In the summer of 2004, Zao Wou-ki came to Biarritz, a seaside city in the southwest of France, where, during the planning and preparation for an exhibition at the Espace Bellevue, he stayed at the legendary, century-old Hôtel du Palais. The city, located on the Atlantic coast, is known for its amazing beaches and surfing spots, and has been called ‘the queen of beaches, and the beach of kings (Reine des plages, plage des rois).’ In 1854, Napoléon III, Emperor of the Second French Empire, built a summer palace in Biarritz for his Empress Eugenie, overlooking the sea. Built in the shape of an ‘E,’ after the first letter of the Empress’s name, it was named the ‘Villa Eugenie.’ The royal palace became the Hôtel du Palais in 1893, and in its new guise as a world-famous resort hotel, it has been witness to the changing history of Europe over the past century or more.

The Hôtel du Palais faces the Atlantic coastline, making visits there a pleasure due to the warmth and romance of the coast in summer. Returning to his studio in Paris, Zao Wou-ki displayed photos he took at the beachfront on a bookcase, and completed this painting in September that same year. Contrary to his customary habit of naming works after their date of completion, he chose to inscribe ‘Le soir à l’Hôtel du Palai, Septembre 2004’ on the reverse side; the finished work was shown in Biarritz the following year at the ‘Zao Wou-ki Retrospective, 1948-2005’ as a tribute to the city.

Standing before this work, a surge of a deep, gentle, rhythmic energy greets the viewer, with a subtle layering of different tones that brings richness and variety to the visual experience of the painting. The colours of Zao’s mostly blue palette exude a dreamy, soft beauty, shifting gradually from the deep sea-blue at the bottom to brighter and more lively shades of sapphire and azure blue higher up, then to a light, soft sky blue above. Le soir à l’Hôtel du Palai breathes with a sense of the ocean’s living rhythms and the feeling of a graceful, natural flow, like a sea breeze moving gently over the earth. Zao’s method of expression, emulating the appearance of nature purely through colour and brushwork, allowed him to better convey the idea of an inner world that he always pursued. Adding turpentine to his oil pigments, he carefully controlled their thickness, producing washes of colour and graduated steps in tone and colour, building up a structure in which ‘sea and sky merge in a single colour.’ A few wisps of pink appear at the painting’s center, like the lingering afterglow of a sunset, while in the few strokes of aqua blue above we can almost see seabirds, wheeling and dancing in the air, their calls reaching us from afar to inject a further note of exuberant life and movement.

Yves Klein once held that blue was the only colour that could take us to the spiritual realm: ‘All colours bring concrete forms, a material feel, and tangible thoughts; blue evokes the ocean and sky, the most abstract elements in the tangible world of nature.’ Blue fascinates us: It seems so close at hand, yet so distant, because the deep blue of the ocean and the sky above seem forever beyond our reach – perhaps why blue is such a stimulant to artists and their imaginations. Caspar David Friedrich and Gustave Courbet, among others, loved to take the sea as a theme in their paintings, reflecting humanity’s feelings for it, and for Zao Wou-ki, abstract works in blue served numerous times during his career to help expand and break through the boundaries of abstract painting. In his 29.09.64, from the mid-1960s, brushstrokes resembling the ‘wild cursive’ style of calligraphy storm across the canvas; the work evokes complex emotions and powerful drama, displaying the majestic energy of natural forces that Zao sensed in the vast ocean. It was a work that revealed his passion, confidence, and ambition during the 1960s, when he was in his forties.

By 2004, Zao Wou-Ki’s career and achievements had reached the heights of public acclaim, and by this time, in his seventies, he was able to follow his creative instincts unerringly. Seeing the sea under the night sky, without the bustling, noisy crowds of the daytime, we sense an even greater depth and yearning in its vastness. As Zao Wou-ki confronted the deep feelings within its vastness, rather than focusing on the ocean’s immense physical power, he found instead a reflection of more personal feelings, and sought to portray a kind of inner landscape and a spiritual peace that would transcend any simple, realistic presentation. Perhaps this kind of peaceful power reflects the insights that come with age; as Ernest Hemingway said in “The Old Man and the Sea,” ‘the love of the sea is too deep, and time is too shallow.’ Le soir à l’Hôtel du Palai visually portrays the sense of contentment the artist must have felt in his twilight years, and it seems to embody, at the same time, a sense of all the memories of his lifetime. Zao Wou-ki’s melding of the natural world and the inner psychological realm into one embodies the Eastern concept of the ideal harmony between man and nature. Noted Swiss author Jacques Chessex once offered the following commentary on Zao Wou-ki’s late period works: ‘In an amazing fashion, a kind of meditation on the sublimity of things appears in the spaces of his canvases, which are a spectacle of sweetness and delight. While no human figures appear, a powerful strength is concentrated here, evoking traces of humanity and the memories of the artist — the memories of all of his experiences, from the ordinary to the extraordinary.’

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