ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1921-2013)
ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1921-2013)
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ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1921-2013)

Fleurs (Flowers)

ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1921-2013)
Fleurs (Flowers)
signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘ZAO 55’ (lower right); signed, titled and dated 'ZAO WOU-Ki Fleurs 1955' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
55 x 46 cm. (21 5⁄8 x 18 1⁄8 in.)
Painted in 1955
Galerie Pierre Loeb, Paris
Private collection, Switzerland
Galerie Herve, New York
Private collection
Sotheby’s London, 21 October 1999, lot 71
Private collection, Asia
Christie’s Hong Kong, 1 December 2021, lot 11
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
P. Daix (ed.), Zao Wou-ki, Ides et Calendes, Paris, 1994 (illustrated, p.85).
F. Marquet-Zao & Y. Hendgen (ed.), Catalogue raisonne des peintures Zao Wou-Ki Volume 1 1935-1958, Flammarion, Paris, 2019 (illustrated, plate P-0422, p. 198, 312).
Taipei, Tina Keng Gallery, Zao Wou-Ki: A Memorial Exhibition, 18 May – 16 June 2013.
Further details
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Foundation Zao Wou-Ki on 5 September 2016.
This work is referenced in the archive of the Foundation Zao Wou-Ki.

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

Lot Essay

Gentle and graceful, the flower petals move with the gaze of the viewer, fluttering and turning still in the air. Merging the lightness of Chinese ink and the richness of Western oil paint, Zao Wou-Ki’s Fleurs captures both the vibrancy and serenity of the lifeform, evoking the intangible spirit of tangible flowers.

In 1951, Zao’s discovery of Paul Klee’s works in an exhibition in Switzerland marked a new phase in his artistic career, as he embarked on the path of abstract art in his work. 'My painting became intelligible. Still lifes and flowers were no longer there. I was tending towards an imaginary, indecipherable writing' (Zao Wou-Ki, Infinite Image and Space – A Retrospective of Zaou Wou-Ki, exhibition catalogue, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1996, p.207). The expression of concept rather than form through art is an obsession and a quest for abstract artists. They search for images that evoke resonance in their individual expression, distilling them into iconic symbols, in a similar vein as Zao’s embrace of the oracle-bone script.

As the earliest known form of Chinese writing, the oracle-bone script has carried the spirit of Chinese history throughout the ages. It became a spiritual embodiment of Zao’s shift towards abstraction, and it is an iconic symbol in the artist’s works from the 1950s. Traversing the tapestry of time, history and culture, Zao explored the essence of the oracle-bone script, instilling the ancient into an innovative expression. He transformed the lines of characters into images of objects, which he condensed into symbols, placing them in different arrangements without offering any explanations of their meaning. The viewer is not compelled to examine or decode the relationship between symbol and meaning. In 1955, the year when Fleurs was created, Alain Jouffroy wrote in Art, ‘The works of Zao Wou-Ki illustrate the Chinese view of the cosmos: they are distant and hazy reflections of the meditative state rather than the subject of meditation. This has become a modern and universal view, one that is shared by Paul Klee, Mark Tobey, and Henri Michaux’ (Infinite Image and Space – A Retrospective of Zaou Wou-Ki, exhibition catalogue, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1996, p.207).

The halos rain down from all directions, falling like a silver-coloured veil on the blue purple earth. The flower petals are illuminated by faint light; they blossom in the painting, swirling, fluttering, and pausing while dancing in the wind. The romantic vision brings to mind a tango that pulsates with the rhythm of life. During this period, Zao made friends with artists working in music, dance, fine arts, and literature across Europe. Drawing on the finesse of different art forms, he infused rhythm and metre into visual impact; with his masterful use of geometrical transformation, he revealed a profound philosophy of life in the painting, creating a classic work from the 1950s. In Fleurs, the pictographs flow across the composition like musical notes and with the grace of a dancer, as they bring to light the incredible texture and beauty of the work. René de Solier, a friend of Zao, once said: ‘In this period of stains without a subject, empty crownings of silent lyrical expression, Zao Wou-Ki’s painting is violently charged with meaning, with a weight of signs not without profusion.’ (Zao Wou-Ki, Taipei, 2005, p.154) As an internationally renowned master of abstract art, and a Chinese artist who cemented his place in Western art history with his early accomplishments in Western art, Zao created magnificent visions with his unique brushwork, while unveiling an evocative realm through his lyrical and abstract expression. The poetry in Zao’s works is one of deep resonance, a silence that seeps into and lingers in our minds.

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