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ZAO WOU-KI
(ZHAO WUJI, French/Chinese, 1920-2013)
Cerf (Stag)
signed in Chinese; signed and dated 'ZAO 50' (lower right); signed, titled and dated 'ZAO WOU-KI cerf (50)' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas laid on cardboard
21.8 x 27 cm. (8 1/2 x 10 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1950
Provenance
Galerie Gerald Cramer, Geneva, Switzerland
Private Collection, Switzerland
Literature
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 224, p. 275).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Documentation by Françoise Marquet, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, USA, 1979 (illustrated in black and white, plate 224, p. 275).
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Documentation by Françoise Marquet, Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelona, Spain, 1986 (illustrated in black and white, plate 256, p. 315).

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Lot Essay

"Unfaithfully accurate, they render the landscape without following it, and with minute, twig-like intricacies give life to the distant figuresK To display while concealing, to break the straight line and make it waver, to depict in idle traceries the wanderings of a stroll and the spidery scrawl of a dreaming spirit: that is what Zao Wou-Ki loves to doK the picture appears, quivering with joy and just a little strange in an orchard of signs." - Henri Michaux (Preface to catalogue of Zao Wou-Ki's exhibitions in the Hanover Gallery in London and Cadby Birch Gallery in New York 1952)

Zao Wou-Ki arrived in Paris in 1948, already familiar with the works of great modern masters such as Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. Coinciding with his arrival was the spread of the new lyrical abstraction movement, and Zao quickly became friends with its proponents, Hans Hartung, Pierre Soulages and Vieira da Silva. He could easily have delved into abstraction from the onset, but, staying true to his pursuit of a personal language of expression, he continued to work with figurative imagery through the late 40's up until the early 50's. For Zao, his initial years in Paris were "a dark age that was completely filled with melancholy and confusion in order to search for the lost language..." His works from this time combine ancestral and modern influences such as Han tomb reliefs and printmaking techniques, a medium he first experienced at the Desjobert printing house in 1949. Painted in 1950, Cerf (Stag) (Lot 101) is one such work that gives testimony to the early struggles and innovations of the artist.

In Cerf, sinuous black and green lines articulate the forms of a stag, the sun, mountains, and trees amid a monochrome red-brown field. Like pictograms, each object is reduced to its most rudimentary form: hollow, overlapping, and transparent. Line and plane, form and void merge onto the modern flat surface. For Zao, the objects in the work were not the subject of his painting, but rather 'particles' that make up the 'universe' that he sought to portray. The arrangement of space is therefore equally as important as the objects within, an important principle drawn from traditional Chinese landscape painting. The simplification of form and layering of space along the vertical axis in Cerf can also be seen in Mi-Fu's Mountains and Pines in Spring. Zao had spent much of his initial time in Paris visiting museums and expressed great admiration for Gustave Courbet's Spring, Stags Fighting, for the simultaneous strength and thinness of the image, which reminded him of an ancient Chinese bronze. In Cerf, the artist chose a metallic, copper paint as the dominant tone, giving the work a similar iridescent quality that is reminiscent of delicate metalwork. The green lines emphasize the horizontal orientation of the image and also create the effect of green patina forming on the surface of copper. The artist scraped and sandpapered the surface, adding variation and texture, while nuances of red and gold colour escape the linear confines like layers of a print. The combined effect of the lines, colours and textures is an optical vibration that expands the picture plane-the viewer is forced to view the whole image at once from a distance, as if glimpsing the universe through the artist's eyes. This landscape occupies a tensioned space in Zao's oeuvre that combines two aesthetic traditions. Cerf predicts the artist's life-long passion for line and void, and expresses his unremitting commitment to fusion and innovation.

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