ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)

Sans titre (Untitled)

ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
Sans titre (Untitled)
signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘ZAO 56’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
100 x 50 cm. (39 3⁄8 x 19 5⁄8 in.)
Painted in 1956
Galerie de France, Paris
Private collection, Switzerland
Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong
Private collection, Asia
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Jean Leymarie, Cercle d'Art, Zao Wou-Ki, Barcelona, 1986 (illustrated, plate 268, p. 280).
Yves Bonnefoy, Gerard de Cortanze, La Différence / Enrico Navarra, Zao Wou-Ki, Paris, 1998 (illustrated, p. 104).
Lin & Keng Gallery Inc. Zao Wou-Ki 1948-1999 Retrospecitve Exhibition, Taipei, 1999 (illustrated, p. 24).
Dominique de Villepin, Zao Wou-Ki. Works 1935-2008, Kwai Fung Art Publishing House, Hong Kong, 2010 (illustrated, p.123).
F. Marquet-Zao & Y. Hendgen (ed.), Flammarion, Catalogue raisonné des peintures Zao Wou-Ki volume 1 1935-1958, Paris, 2019 (illustrated, plate P-0493, p. 230 & p. 320).
Hong Kong, Alisan Fine Arts, Zao Wou-Ki, 4 - 24 May 1996.
Tapei, Lin & Keng Gallery, Zao Wou-Ki 1948-1999 Retrospecitive Exhibition, 13 - 30 November 1999.
Tokyo, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Zao Wou-Ki, 16 October 2004 – 16 January 2005
Further details
This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

‘I wanted to paint what cannot be seen, the breath of life, the wind, the movement, the life of forms, the colours’ outbreak and their fusion.’ —Zao Wou-Ki

1954 marks the beginning of the period when Zao starts to consciously insert core elements of Chinese culture into his works, while bringing into play his own knowledge of Chinese painting. The oracle-bone series show Zao’s direct integration of calligraphy into his paintings with symbols evocative of the earliest known form of Chinese writing from the Shang dynasty called oracle-bones script on ox bones and turtle plastrons. The old practice of engraving characters on the animal material had the religious purpose to ask deities questions relating to the weather and fortune. Therefore, Zao takes up the spiritual component in relation to natural elements, which was already embedded in this tradition, while returning to the origins of scripture. Many of Zao’s works from this period illustrate his ambition to utilize abstract forms to grasp the power of nature.

Painted in 1956, Untitled is featured in almost all of the artist’s important publications, as it stands out as an iconic work that encapsulates Zao’s oracle-bone period in its maturity. At this point of his career, the artist had mastered the integration of text into painting. In the composition, the characters both accentuate and blend into the layered background, wandering across the canvas like lines in the oracle-bone script, as if conjuring up the pictographic origin of the script. Zao’s works from the oracle-bone period are profound echoes of nature. Every painting is an abstract landscape that embodies the artist’s distinctive style, as it evokes the ever-shifting forces of and life in nature. Among the works from Zao’s oracle-bone period, which lasted only five years, the present work is the only painting that features the 'red sun' symbol. The block of red near the top of the painting calls to mind the rising sun and its golden rays of light, as it emanates a bustling vitality and a poetic touch. This kind of composition and imagery is rarely seen among the known works from Zao’s oracle-bone series. In addition, the present work is a hanging central scroll painting at the ratio of 1:2, a unique format that is frequently used in Chinese literati painting. It illustrates Zao’s exploration in merging Chinese and Western cultures in his work ten years after his arrival in Paris. Meanwhile, the use of vertical composition allows the oracle-bone script symbols to flow freely, as if they were totems rising from the bottom of the painting, resonating with a sense of rhythm and motion. The composition is predominantly in dark yellow, the colour of the sky and the earth in classical Chinese culture, which symbolises auspiciousness and peace.

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