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


ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
signed in Chinese and signed 'ZAO' (lower right); signed 'ZAO WOU-KI', dated and titled '25.2.77' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
73 x 100 cm. (28 3/4 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1977
Galerie Kutter, Luxembourg
Private collection, Luxembourg
Private collection, Europe
Anon. Sale, Versailles Encheres Paris, 13 December 2009, Lot 87
Anon. Sale, Ravenel Hong Kong, 29 November 2010, Lot 20
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 8 August 2008.
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).
Dora Vallier and Francoise Marquet, Editions Poligrafa S. A., Zao Wou-ki, En Torno al Gesto, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated in black and white, plate 16, p. 78).
Pierre Daix, Editions Ides et Calendes, Zao Wou-Ki, L’oeuvre 1935- 1993, Neuchatel, Switzerland, 1994 (illustrated, p. 130).
Y. Bonnefoy, G. de Cortanze, La Difference& Enrico Navarra, Zao Wou-Ki, Paris, France, 1998 (illustrated, p.183).
Barcelona, Spain, Galeria Joan Prats, Zao Wou-ki, En Torno al Gesto, 1978.
Luxembourg, Galerie Kutter, Zao Wou-Ki, oeuvres recentes, 1979.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

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Lot Essay

Looking back at 20th century, Zao Wou-Ki is one of the undisputed masters of the 20th century Chinese art world. He studied under the tutelage of Lin Fengmian at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts, where he later taught for five years. After moving to Paris in 1948, Zao gradually established himself as one of the modern masters in Western Art. Nevertheless, his life took a drastic turn in the 1970s—Zao’s second wife, Chan May-Kan, passed away in 1972. This devastating grief caused Zao to lose his drive to create more paintings. He decided to leave Paris behind, and returned to his native land after having been away for 24 years. In 1973, with the encouragement from his friend Henri Michaux, Zao reacquainted himself with Chinese ink, which reignited his passion for painting. In 1977, he received invitations to take part in a few exhibitions in Japan, including exhibitions organized by the Gallery of Tokyo Fuji Television, and the then Ishibashi Museum of Art, the most important museum in Japan at the time.

Christie’s is pleased to present 25.02.77, a monumental masterpiece by Zao from the 1970s. This is a painting that marks the turning point in his artistic career. After twenty years of exploration in the West, he returned to his Chinese roots and sought out the ultimate essence of Chinese landscape paintings. Zao speaks of this transformation in his autobiography: “From 1973 onwards, there was a significant change in my painting style. My friends often spoke of it, and they even wrote about it. Perhaps I had matured, and all of my accumulated efforts were bearing fruit. I also realized that I love to paint more than ever. There was an intensifying desire for expression within me, while I also felt a growing anxiety about repeating myself. I painted my life, but I also wanted to paint an invisible space, the space of dream, a space of harmony, even if my method was one of tension and restlessness. Every painting, from smallest to largest, was a part of this dream.” Zao’s words suggest his creative style reached maturity during this period—his brushstrokes become more refined, while his colours are subdued yet glorious. In the composition, the viewer can see the artist’s pursuit of space and light. Between the sky and the earth, the imagery encapsulates the elements of nature and the sparks of the universe, while it rings with the nuances of landscape. After the intensely striking brushwork during the Hurricane Period, Zao moved on to a new artistic vision in the 1970s. He further departed from the direct representation of forms, figurative elements, or imitations of nature in his work, giving voice instead to the abstract feeling of the spaces, their internal movements, and the life force and harmonious energy within the natural landscapes. The brushstrokes at the centre intersect and spread, like an underlying momentum that intensifies and then swiftly disperses. It seems to wash out the imagery across the painting, creating an incredible visual impact. In Zao’s synthesis of ink and oil painting, the colours reach freely into space. The painting features a horizontal and three section composition. In the middle section, there is an overlapping of complex colours with touches of dark green, turquoise and brown, while the greyscale hues collide with the vibrant colours. In the upper and lower sections, graduations of light purple and light yellow are created with layers of mixed and smeared paints. It brings to mind a vast and dreamlike world, where the trees emerge in the first lights of dawn across the mountains.

In the words of Zong Baihua, philosopher of modern Chinese aesthetics: “The cosmic world represents the infinite life; it offers tremendous momentum, and it is a rigorous order and harmonious unison.” 25.02.77 is an embodiment of traditional Chinese philosophy, as well as the spirit of traditional Chinese landscape painting. The painting possesses a radiant vitality that brings to light Zao’s inner world. Inspired by splash ink and the layering of water and ink, Zao brought his approach of working with ink to the way he sustained painting with oils diluted in extensive turpentine, creating effects that are akin to ink smudges on the canvas. Compared to Zhang Daqian’s resonant splashed ink and solid colours, Zao’s paintings resonate a calm and serene atmosphere. In the works of both artists, the ephemeral expression is a quest for the spiritual realm rather than figurative representation. The void in the painting hints at a boundless sphere. In Chinese painting and calligraphy, the void refers to the intentional creation of empty spaces in the composition.
In leaving a limitless space for imagination, the viewer is drawn to the stark contrast between void and solid that embodies the subtle beauty of Chinese aesthetics. Zao preserves the directness and spirit of Abstraction, while incorporating the richly delicate textures of ink smudge into his paintings. He gives perfect manifestation to Western abstract art and traditional Chinese literati thought, as his work
spotlights the artist’s merging of cultural influences and his groundbreaking vision.

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