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

Chemin d’ombre

ZAO WOU-KI (ZHAO WUJI, 1920-2013)
Chemin d’ombre
signed in Chinese, signed and dated ‘ZAO 52’ (lower right); signed, titled, dated and inscribed ‘Zao Wou-Ki Chemin d’ombre 1952 50 x 61 cm’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
50 x 61 cm. (19 5/8 x 24 in.)
Painted in 1952
Private Collection, Europe
The authenticity of the artwork has been confirmed by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki.
J.Laude, Zao Wou-Ki, La Connaissance, Brussels, Belgium, 1974 (illustrated, p. 72).
P. Daix, Zao Wou-Ki: L’oeuvre 1935-1993, Ides et Calendes, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1994 (illustrated, p.76).
Musée Fabre, Zao Wou-Ki, exh. cat., Montpellier, France, 2004 (illustrated p. 49).
F. Marquet-Zao & Y. Hendgen (ed.), Flammarion, Catalogue raisonné des peintures Zao Wou-Ki Volume 1 1935-1958, Paris, France, 2019 (illustrated, plate P-0263, p. 141 & p. 294).
Rome, Italy, Galleria dell’Obelisco, Zao Wou-Ki, December 1953. Montpellier, France, Musée Fabre, Zao Wou-Ki. Hommages, July – October 2004.

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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.

Chemin d'ombre showcases a more evolved style from 14.09.50, incorporating influences from Paul Klee after his encounter with the artist in 1951. While Zao was in Bern, Switzerland, and he spent much time there enjoying the museum dedicated to Klee, the Zentrum Paul Klee. Zao couldn't help but be intrigued by the lines, colours, symbols and motifs in Klee's work. In his memoirs, he recalled that "Klee was so good at creating incomparably vast spaces on small canvases...his understanding of and love for Chinese painting was very clear. When these tiny symbols appeared in the spaces he created, a world would be born, and it dazzled me!" Similarly, the techniques and arrangement of space in Chemin d'ombre demonstrates Zao's homage to Klee. The artist transforms figurative images into abstracted lines of geometric forms and restructured spaces. Like pictograms, each object is reduced to its most rudimentary form: hollow, overlapping and transparent. Line and plane, form and void intertwining on 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 artist would also scrape off paint in some areas with the tip of a wooden brush to form his iconic outlines around his subjects.

"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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