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ZAO WOU-KI
(ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, 1920-2013)
14.09.50
inscribed 'A Lanlan pour son anniversaire' (to Lanlan on her birthday); 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
Provenance
Private Collection, Asia

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Lot Essay

With the end of the Second World War, Paris' trendsetting art scene quickly revived and resumed attracting young artists from around the globe. Young Americans, Soviets, Portuguese and Chinese were among those who arrived to contribute their talents to the artistic melting pot. Young artists began moving away from geometric abstraction as they discovered 'Abstraction Lyrique' and later 'Art Informel' as ways to express sentiments free from the restrictions of form. This revolutionary trend was a key driving force for Zao Wou-Ki.
Zao arrived in Paris with his first wife, Lalan, on 1 April, 1948. Initially he dedicated most of his time on the study of pictorial space, which resulted in a breakthrough in his artistic style during 1949-1950. Zao's portrayal of objects underwent the first phase of abstract simplification - representation of objects in pure lines. The details of forests and tree branches all gave way to primitive circles, squares, triangles, or outlines of target objects. While these simple geometric shapes seem to be scattered freely in 14.09.50 (Lot 113), an invisible force bonds them in a harmonious world filled with Zen. When objects are simplified - for example, in Mountains and Pines in Spring by Mi Fu in the Song Dynasty, and Circle, Triangle, and Square by Sengai Gibon in the Edo Period - the setting takes precedence; the totality of the piece would be undermined if the shapes were just slightly moved. Zao's outstanding technique in handling the set is brilliantly shown in this work.
In 14.09.50 Zao has successfully elevated the tangible world into an intangible yet spiritual world, a step closer to realising his ambition - to bring the infinite universe into his works. His success in imbuing his work with poetic imagery and spirituality could be influenced by Paul Klee, who was equally famous for blending east and west, poetry and art. Zao once commented of Klee's artistic achievements: 'Thanks to his tactful manipulation of space, the small frame was enlarged and the symbols in his works give birth to a new world I feel dazzled with.'
Zao's construction of his poetic world relies not only on symbols and space, but also on colour and painting technique. In 14.09.50, he deliberately spreads his oil paints with additional solvents so no trace of the brush is left. He builds a background as light as one done with ink diffusion. Splendid diamond blue and jade green, resembling the natural forms of kyanite and green garnet, take the key role. Art Critic Claude Roy wrote that Zao's creation of the work, with its mineral colours, after a brief stay in the mountains showed he continued to take his inspiration from the natural landscape. With his short and detailed strokes in this unique piece, Zao dripped the diamond blue and jade green into crystal-clear water, dissolving them at different tones and levels.
14.09.50 was a gift from Zao to Lalan on her 29th birthday. Zao brings both nature and the universe into the piece like precious jewels, showing his love for his wife. Zao first met Xie in 1935 at West Lake in Hangzhou when he attended classes at the Hangzhou School of Fine Art. Xie began studying in the school's department of music in 1938 and the couple were married in 1941. They left for Paris in February 1948 to pursue their artistic dreams. Within just a year of their arrival and with Lalan's unfailing support, Zao was employed by Galerie Creuze. 14.09.50 reflects not only Zao's love for his wife over 15 years, but also the couple's pursuit of their artistic dreams together.

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