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ZAO WOU-KI
Property from the Estate of Bernard and Geneviève Anthonioz
ZAO WOU-KI

Details
ZAO WOU-KI
(ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, 1920-2013)
6.11.72
signed in Chinese; signed 'ZAO' (lower right); signed, titled and inscribed 'ZAO WOU-KI 6.11.72 95x105' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
95 x 105 cm. (37 3/8 x 41 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1972
Provenance
Gift from the artist to Bernard and Geneviève Anthonioz in 1972-1973, thence by decent to the present owners
Private Collection, France
Exhibited
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki , Documentation by Françoise Marquet, Hier et Demain Editions, Paris, France and Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1978 (illustrated in black and white, plate 412, p. 299).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Documentation by Françoise Marquet, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, USA, 1979 (illustrated in black and white, plate 412, p. 299).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-ki, Documentation by Françoise Marquet, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris, France and Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1986 (illustrated, plate 444, p. 339).

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Lot Essay

SINCERITY IN SNOWSCAPE
Snow tracks on the outskirt of the mountains were beginning to freeze. The plum blossoms on the mountainside were in bloom for the winter. November is the season of snow and frost, but it is also the season for sealing friendships. In November 1972, Zao Wou-Ki had completed the oil painting 6.11.72 (Lot 10) and gave this precious white gift to his dear friends - the Anthonioz couple.
Born in Switzerland in 1921, Bernard Anthonioz fought in his twenties as an active member of the resistance during World War II. His services included publishing censored political writings and smuggling them into occupied France. In 1958, he joined the cabinet of André Malraux who was the French Cultural Minister between 1959 and 1969. Bernard Anthonioz strongly believed that art must be accessible to everyone. As a result, he actively began promoting contemporary art with an all-encompassing policy that reached museum acquisitions, commissioning major public works from artists, and funding new state-funded centres for artistic creations. He became a great ambassador of the French art scene internationally. And in turn, he gave the French population access to the best international contemporary art. The establishment of the 1 policy is one of his greatest achievements: every public building project was given 1 of its architectural budget to devote to the acquisition of a work of art. This policy allowed major 20th century artists to create ambitious works for public spaces: Zao Wou-Ki gave a monumental painting to the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon; Marc Chagall repainted the roof of the Opera Garnier in Paris. Many other key artists were enlisted, namely Maria Helena Vieria Da Silva, and Alexander Calder. The 1 policy supported creation while popularizing art to all. Bernard Anthonioz, as a political figure, brought diversity and a salutary dynamism to a relatively conformist French cultural politics.
In 1946, Bernard Anthonioz married Geneviève de Gaulle, the niece of General de Gaulle. A member of the resistance, Geneviève de Gaulle was deported to the concentration camp at Ravensbrück where she suffered terribly until she was liberated at the end of the war in 1945. Together, the Anthonioz couple became an essential part of the French artistic scene and developed a strong friendship with most of the artists at the time. Zao Wou-Ki was particularly close to the couple. He gave 6.11.72 to them as a token of their friendship. The politician helped the artist obtain French nationality in 1964. Anthonioz was also the initiator of Zao's collaboration with the Gobelins tapestry and the Sèvres porcelain manufactures. In this sense, Bernard and Geneviève Anthonioz actively participated in the dissemination of Zao Wou-Ki's talent.
Zao Wou-ki did not like viewers to consider his paintings as landscapes. This somehow confines the dynamism of the points and lines in the picture plane. In his oil paintings, the space created by ink dots and lines breathes and sways in the wind. Brushstrokes glide and gallop in the expansive background. Layer after layer, from far to near, they unfold in front of the viewers. Compositionally, 6.11.72 is remarkably unorthodox - when compared to his classic paintings, the sense of depth is extended in the opposite way in this work. Thick white impasto covered every corner of the canvas. Zao Wou-ki expertly handled the delicate ratio between oil paint and turpentine - the background appears to be smooth, yet it is not overly translucent. In the middle is a bubbling nest of dark brushstrokes that tangle in themselves. Seemingly, it is a mysterious cavern that draws the vision of the viewer deeper and deeper all the way through the canvas. In Zao Wou-ki's other paintings, the foreground is typically protruding as if it is a metal sculpture - the relief was produced by the repoussé technique of hammering from the reverse side. 6.11.72 has a more neutral space. In comparison, it even has a convex illusion that confounds the two dimensional limitation of the picture plane.
Black and white have always been considered the supremely pure colours in painting. They are also the hardest colours to master. The French painter Pierre Soulages who was renowned for his virtuosic use of black explained, "Painting is the magic between transparency and opacity". By the nature of the medium, the oil paint brush is hard and solid, thus creating brushstrokes of volume. Soulages utilised this audacity inherent in the medium to complement the tranquility of the night. The white in 6.11.72 is bitterly cold. There are two sweeping strokes cleave from both left and right of the painting. They are hard and brisk. The centre area is relatively soft and nebulous - it reflects the texture of Chinese ink. With such softness nestling inside the hard surroundings, the textures of the white and darker colours complement each other. This juxtaposition liberates the cascading layers of virgin whites.
When Zao Wou-ki arrived in Paris in the beginning of 1948, it was a period when abstract painting was thriving. He instantly became close friends with Soulages and Hans Hartung. They all share their experiences in the lifelong quest of finding the essence of abstract painting. Painted in 1964, Hartung's Exploded Composition looks like it was largely improvised at first glance. It is actually a careful study in contrast between the criss-crossing blue and yellow. Such visual chemistry accumulates tremendous chaotic energy exploding outward. Ten years after Hartung's work, 6.11.72 composition seems to carry the same explosive centre. Although it does not have the same naked brushwork and overt dynamism, hidden inside Zao Wou-ki's work is a deeper emotion. From the dark whirlpool centre crossing to the outer spiraling arms of the vortex, the brushstrokes continue to transform until they become the fine feathering in the delicate hue of ivory. The intrinsic emotions continue to evolve in this metamorphosis. Though they are ethereal, these sentiments are etched in the very marrow of the being.
Many art critics have agreed that the impetus for Zao Wou-ki transformation into another artistic level in 1973 was mainly because of the passing away of his second wife May. 6.11.72 was completed six months after May's death. It was intended to be a blessing to his dear friend Anthonioz' most memorable moment in his life. Yet this blessing is inevitably mixed with longing for his late wife. The trembling lines in his painting still remain, yet they are not as hasty, oppressed, and nostalgic of the Chinese ink painting from a bygone creative period. As stated by the famous Taiwanese painter, writer, and intellectual Chu Ko, "The subtle use of colour in Zao Wou-ki's painting is a true summation of the principle of Samadhi in the Eastern ink painting philosophy. Yet the richness and sensibilities found in his palette is abundant beyond the imagination of the authentic Chinese ink painting." The purity of the white abstraction in the background is timeless and eternal. The state of mind expressed in the picture perfectly embodies how Zao Wou-ki would forever treasure this friendship.

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