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


ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
inscribed 'A Lanlan pour l’anniversaire',
signed in Chinese; signed 'ZAO' (lower right)
oil on canvas laid on cardboard
15.8 x 19.8 cm. (6 1/4 x 7 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1950
Cadby-Birch Gallery, New York, USA
Patti Cadby Birch Collection, New York, USA
Private Collection, New York, USA
Private Collection, Italy
Private Collection, Asia
Anon. Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 24 November 2013, lot 113
Anon. Sale, Ravenel Taipei, 5 June 2016, lot 257
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki, dated 26 January 2010.
F. Marquet-Zao & Y. Hendgen (ed.), Flammarion, Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures Zao Wou-Ki Volume 1 1935-1958, Paris, France, 2019 (illustrated, plate P-0169, p. 111 & p. 283).

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Ada Tsui (徐文君)
Ada Tsui (徐文君)

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Lot Essay

"A good landscape painting is not just a demonstration of competent application of paint. It must offer a feeling of homage to the subject." -Keith Shackleton

1948 was the year when Zao Wou-Ki and his wife Xie Jinglan boarded Andre Lebon. Having set their eyes on Paris, they embarked on a voyage that took them across the waters as they prepare for a fresh start in a foreign land. Upon their arrival, Zao was determined to move away from being hailed as a "Chinese artist"; first by studying the French language and to educate himself further on Western art.

With the end of World War II, Paris was steadily recovering from the fragments of war. It wasn't long after when the city was once again attracting young artists to assemble in this cultural melting pot. During which Zao would encounter fellow artists like Alberto Giacometti, Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung and many others. In contrast to his contemporaries who focused primarily on abstraction, Zao remained true to his roots in the pursuit of creating a pictorial language that bridges Eastern and Western aesthetics. Part of his quest in pursuit of inspiration, Zao travelled around Europe to gain exposure on Western art, history, architecture and culture. In the course of his travels, he experimented on new form of lines and perspective which eventually led to a breakthrough in his artistic style.

Created between 1949-1953, San Titre, 14.09.50 & Chemin d'ombre are three exemplary works that encapsulates Zao Wou-Ki's artistic evolution during his early days in Paris. Stylistically, his subjects are becoming more generalized and abstract, as images and motifs are simplified into the pure motion of line. The primary focus is on the rhythm of curving lines and the way they build space, and on exploring the energies of those lines, the hidden dynamics of form within them, and their emotional import. Following the rhythmic movement of the lines, the viewer senses the motion of the painter's brush, the pulse of his imagination. The strongly expressionistic and abstract elements of the work form a link to Zao Wou-ki's later abstract nature paintings.

Upon his arrival in Paris, Zao dedicated an extensive amount oftime studying pictorial space, which resulted in a breakthroughin his artistic style during 1949-1950. By 1949, Zao's portrayalof objects underwent the first phase of abstract simplification -representation of objects in pure lines. Visually documented in 14.09.50, it showcased Zao's attempt to adopt symbology as ameans to depict nature. The details of forests and tree branches allgave way to primitive circles, squares, triangles, or outlines of targetobjects. While these simple geometric shapes seem to be scatteredfreely, an invisible force bonds them in a harmonious world filled withZen. In 14.09.50 Zao has successfully elevated the tangible worldinto an intangible yet spiritual world, a step closer to realising hisambition - to bring the infinite universe into his works.

Zao's artistic brilliance and success derives from his creativemeans to imbue poetic imagery and spirituality into his work. The construction of his poetic world relies not only on symbols andspace, but also on colour and painting techniques. In 14.09.50, hedeliberately spreads his oil paints with additional solvents so no traceof the brush is left. He builds a background as light as one done withink diffusion. Splendid diamond blue and jade green, resembling thenatural forms of kyanite and green garnet, take the key role.

14.09.50 was a gift from Zao to Lalan on her 29th birthday. Withinthis small and exquisite memorabilia, Zao incorporated both natureand the universe into the piece like precious jewels to express hisaffection for his wife.

"For French people to witness these young foreign artists arriving in Paris in 1949 with an attitude of arriving in the world's capital, arriving at the laboratories and the palaces of modern art, is not only gratifying but also inspiring. The most beautiful part of it is that they accept French influence while retaining their own identities, and in many cases, they become even more assertive as inheritors of the culture of their homelands ... for a century, this has been the case for thousands of artists, and Zao Wou-Ki is no exception." - Bernard Dorival, Director of Musee Nationale d'Art Moderne, Paris

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