04.01.79

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Asia (acquired directly from the artist)
    Private Collection, Asia
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Luxembourg, Musée d’Histoire et d’Art, Zao Wou-Ki. Grands tableaux de 1964 à 1979, 1980, no. 30
    Charleroi, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Grands tableaux de Zao Wou-Ki, 1980, no. 30
    Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais; Fukuoka Art Museum; Tokyo, Nihonbashi Art Gallery; Fukui Prefectural Museum; Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art; Kamakura, Museum of Modern Art, Zao Wou-Ki, Peintures, encres de Chine. 1950-1981, 1981-1982, no. 43
    Hong Kong Arts Centre, Paintings by Zao Wou-Ki. 1954-1981, 1982
    Paris, Artcurial, centre d’art plastique contemporain, Zao Wou-Ki, 1955-1988, 1988, p. 20 (illustrated)
    Aix-en-Provence, Fondation Vasarely, Zao Wou-Ki, collection personnelle, 1955-1989, 1991, no.11, p. 19 (illustrated)
    Kaohsiung Museum of Arts, A retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, 1996, pp. 171-172 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Paris, 1986, no. 228, p. 280 (illustrated)
    Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen, ed., Zao Wou-Ki 1935–2008, Hong Kong, 2010, p. 219 (illustrated)

  • Video

    Eastern Taoism and European Modernism Intersect in Zao Wou-Ki's '04.01.79'

    Jonathan Crockett, Deputy Chairman of Asia, discusses the dance of Eastern and Western influences in Zao Wou-Ki's '04.01.79'. An all-encompassing representation of the Chinese-Parisian artist's mature stage of his life after residing in Paris for over three decades, the painting is a culmination of Eastern ink techniques and Western abstraction. In '04.01.79', Zao Wou-Ki uses this unique style to bring forms to amorphous forces of nature such as fog and light.

  • Catalogue Essay

    Standing at an impressive height of 2 and a half metres, 04.01.79 is a rare and large-scale work by Zao Wou-Ki, one of the greatest modern Chinese masters. Executed in 1979, the present work embodies the pivotal stylistic transition from the artist’s middle to late period of abstract paintings. The largest painting from the 1970s by the artist to ever come to auction, as well as among the top 10 of his largest works on the market, 04.01.79 is presented to the public for the first time.

    Zao Wou-Ki perfectly captures in 04.01.79 the essence of traditional Chinese ink landscapes from the Song and Yuan Dynasties, complemented by the virtues of Western painting in its use of colour and tones. The result is an image of implicit scenic beauty, evoking the grandeur of magnificent landscapes punctuated by high mountains and trees.

    Zao Wou-Ki: The Man and His Art

    “The myriad things in the universe are conceived by existence; Existence arises from nothingness; and all shall eventually return to the boundless.” – Zao Wou-ki (“Boundless”) was named by his grandfather after the Tao Te Ching, an ancient text by Chinese philosopher Laozi. Despite being the eldest son, Zao Wou-ki did not wish to continue the family business as a banker, and instead grew up especially fond of art. At the age of 15, Zao enrolled in the National Hangzhou Art Academy. Influenced by Western artists like Cézanne and Matisse, he aspired to break free from the confines of traditional Chinese painting. Zao graduated in 1941 after completing his 6-year training programme, after which he was retained by his teacher Lin Fengmian to stay on as a teaching assistant. In hopes of pursuing wider artistic possibilities, the young artist travelled to France in 1948 with his family’s support. This supposed sojourn ultimately became a permanent residency.

    Many Chinese artists who came to France to further their education before Zao’s time were part of the work-study programme –a practice of working while studying part-time as a form of self-support that was promoted by China’s Republican government in its early years. The programme was about maintaining a national core of traditional Chinese learning while equipping it with the functionalities of Western learning. Artists like Lin Fengmian and Xu Beihong had returned to China from their studies abroad and founded schools, so as to contribute to the future generations of their nation. As Zao’s teacher, Lin had hoped Zao would likewise return after a few years abroad. However, Zao in his fervent pursuit of art was motivated to stay on in the West. Having been raised in a different time in China from his teachers, artists of Zao Wou-Ki’s generation such as Chu Teh-Chun and himself were no longer strongly driven by the mission to “save the motherland”. Instead, this new generation of young artists were exploring and negotiating conflicts between the art of their own culture and the art they were learning about in Europe. Eventually, as more Asian artists embraced Western mediums and techniques, their own rootedness in their culture led them to strive for a balance between the two distinct styles, and the formation of a unique vocabulary in praxis. However, Zao chose to walk a different path; as a young student, he had been resistant to the enshrinement and replication of traditional Chinese art as taught by his instructors. In Paris, he made no deliberate effort to embed Chinese culture in his practice, for he sought to be seen purely as an artist and not as a foreigner stuck with a geographical label. It is for this reason that Zao refrained from ink painting in the first few years of his residency in the French capital.

    In 1951, after an art visit to Switzerland, Zao drew inspiration from Paul Klee’s paintings and started gradually effacing the representational quality of his own works. Very quickly outgrowing the landscapes of his Klee period, the artist came upon the idea of combining Western abstraction with China’s archaic and semiotically rich writing system to develop an artistic idiom of his own. The resultant creation of his Oracle Bone Script series began in 1954. Although Klee’s use of signs and symbols was influenced by Eastern art, his work led Zao deep into the grand edifice of Western art.

    From then on, Zao leapt into the world of abstraction. After Cloud (1958), he no longer titled his paintings and instead, only indicated a date on the back of his canvas. By the late 1950s, the artist’s creations were further stripped of descriptiveness and narrative— signs and symbols gradually disappeared.

    A Triumph Over Adversity

    Around the time 04.01.79 was created, Zao had gained full control of a new stylistic endeavour in conveying a heightened sense of spontaneity and calm in his paintings. As exemplified by the present masterwork, Zao’s portrayal of tranquillity and elegance in nature is unrivalled. This new stylistic phase is highly connected to events that had occurred during that period of his life. The illness and eventual passing of Zao’s second wife in 1972 had left Zao in mourning. Following a period of personal loss and turmoil, it was through this ordeal that the artist started to reconnect with the study of ink wash painting. He resumed painting again in 1973, and began working on large format paintings circa 1977.

    Large zones of dark wash call to Zao’s exploration of the ink medium, at the same time also characterises the painting to the specific phase in the artist’s life from 1973 to 1980. Zao himself had said that his style underwent a new transformation from 1973 onwards—he regained peace in his works as compared to the deliberate control depicted in earlier abstract works. The year that 04.01.79 was executed can hence be seen as a period of triumph in reaching a new climax in his artistic pursuits.

    The Artistic Accomplishments in 04.01.79

    04.01.79’s composition is one of sophisticated, angled trisection –an abstract landscape of tenuous mist girdling precipitous mountains artfully guiding the viewer’s gaze. This is reminiscent of the liubai (to leave blank) aesthetic in Chinese Ink painting, especially as seen in Ni Zan’s minimalistic landscape compositions. Zao also inherits the spirit of the Chinese ink medium through colour, his use of monochromatic tones of black, brown and white reflective of Nature. Peeking through the centre of the landscape are sweeping brushstrokes of warm orange pinks and blue greens, evoking scenes of tumbling mountainside streams. Notably, the darker brown areas on the lower left and just above the centre also illustrate the traditional ink painters’ textured strokes. The work exhibits the calligraphic methods of feibai (flying white), where a brush lightly steeped in ink smudges across silk in order to create a sense of flight; and, perhaps yet, of cunfa (crack technique), whereby a tilted and loaded ink brush layers thick, broad strokes in order to evoke shadows and texture, often utilised to render Nature itself. In 04.01.79 one is witness to all such elements cascading into one another to create an arresting and engulfing composition that serves to anchor our visual associations. The Record of Famous Painters from All the Dynasties by Tang art historian Zhang Yanyuan’s deliberates on the notion of “manipulating ink to produce tones that correspond to the five colours”. This pentad of tones include “scorched ink”, “concentrated ink”, “dense ink”, “light ink” and “clear ink”, of which, each can further vary in terms of the degree of wetness and concentration. With 04.01.79, Zao had taken in such richness of possibilities in the Chinese ink medium, and re-cast it by means of a Western medium with a sense of immediacy.

    While 04.01.79 still carries the air of magnificence from Zao Wou-Ki’s earlier years, the artist at this stage paid more attention to crafting pictorial space as a whole, the resulting product infused with lingering, entangling and romantic yet restrained sentiments one might associate with lines from the Tang poet Wang Wei’s Mount Zhongnan, “The white clouds close behind me when I look back. The azure mistiness disappears when I enter it”. According to art critic François Jacob, “[t]he perpetuity of Zao's paintings lies in their questioning of the world”, “their efforts to recreate”, as some of them “display … the birth of light, the invention of water”, or “life indistinctly emerging”, just “beyond the turbulent upheavals of matter”.

    Zao’s work very much instantiates the beauty of simplicity that informs Chinese ink painting in its colours and spatial arrangement, depicting energetic brushwork that pulsates along the canvas, and in turn conveys the artist’s sensibilities derived from his connection towards this Eastern art form. Zao had also stated in his autobiography that he was a great admirer of Rembrandt, and was highly inspired by the Western master’s wet-on-wet technique. In re-exploring the intricacies of the Chinese ink, Zao Wou-Ki contemplated how these practices could be blended with the expressive modality of abstract painting. 04.01.79 is a perfect example of Zao’s re-articulation of the ancient spirit onto the canvas. In this piece, the artist had added turpentine to thin out the heavy consistency of his oil paints; the diluted paints offered greater freedom in allowing the artist to generously set down highly translucent washes or layers to create a visual effect akin to the flowing smoothness of ink applied by the ancient literati painters onto rice paper.

    Traversing Centuries, Straddling East and West: A Visual Analysis of 04.01.79

    Observing 04.01.79, one is confronted with the momentous spiritual dynamism of the painting – one that brings to mind the great classical landscapes of the Song Dynasties. 04.01.79 is potently reminiscent especially of paintings by legendary Song master Li Tang (c. 1050-1130), whose virtuosic technique and sensational brushwork rendered magnificent, atmospheric paintings that evoked otherworldly realms. Li’s style influenced subsequent generations of painters, redefining the genre and status quo of landscape painting.

    Zao’s concise brushwork reveals various techniques and sophisticated manoeuvring of colour. The scene ingeniously employs white space to construct a compositional conception of sky and land, while the breathtaking atmosphere of the work envelops viewers with its powerful immersive quality. Standing before 04.01.79, one detects elusive yet compelling traces of picturesque scenery, including mountains, creeks, green trees and scholar’s rocks. Shrouded in a swirling mist, the mountains seem to undulate, the rivers seem to flow, and the pathways beneath the cliff crisscross dynamically into each other. In a mere instant, a stunning and spectacular landscape painting reveals itself from the abstract painting.

    In the later works of Joseph Mallord William Turner, the English Romantic painter focused increasingly on the atmospheric qualities of sky, sea, wind and mist, or the rays of light from a flame, and gradually lessened his depiction of physical objects and their details. Critic John Ruskin observed that in these later works, Turner was able to truly grasp hold of the vital pulse of nature. In these paintings, Turner paved the way for Impressionist theory.

    The 20th century overseas Chinese artists, including Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh-Chun and T’ang Haywen (Zeng Haiwen), were all influenced by Turner. Zao's unique and captivating treatment of light and atmosphere, which began in the 1950s and continued on to his more energetic phase in the 1960s, is particularly entrancing. Later in the 1970s, Zao's works reveal a heightened manifestation of Taoist theories of nature and the spiritual qualities of water and air, a testament to the artist's focus of study during this phase of his career. 04.01.79 precisely embodies such preoccupations, evoking a vast, surreal sense of space whilst blurring the boundaries between myth and reality.

    While there was an abundance of imagination towards the East in the paintings of Western masters such as Eugène Delacroix, Van Gogh and Matisse, such works were mostly interpretations and portrayals of superficialities— bits of Western modern art’s summation of Orientalism. Zao Wou-Ki’s achievement lies in the fact that he, as a Chinese brought up immersed in Eastern art, was able to draw from his own cultural foundation, and integrate seamlessly Chinese-style landscapes, ink wash painting, as well as the xieyi approach, sensitivities and well-coordinated contrasts of traditional calligraphy with the boldness of Western modernism. To the Westerners, Zao’s paintings had fulfilled their common expectations of the imagined East. At the same time, Zao was also celebrated by the Chinese as an ‘Orientalist’ of the artistic approach and interpretation of Western abstraction, one who unites the spirits of both worlds. Such artistic prowess that straddles both the ancient and the modern, the East and West, can only command our utmost admiration.

  • Catalogue Essay

    創作於1979年的鉅作,尺幅高250公分,規模宏大,見證著藝術家在創作抽象畫的中期至晚期之間,在風格上的過渡和轉變。《04.01.79》是歷來拍賣市場上,尺幅最大的七十年代趙無極作品,也是藝術家曾於拍賣市場出現的作品中,尺寸位踞前十大的畫作之一。《04.01.79》從未現身拍賣市場,彌足珍貴,實屬難得。

    趙無極在《04.01.79》中,完美地捕捉到宋元時期中國山水畫的精髓 ,同時融入西方油畫之色彩和色調運用上優點。這幅作品展現一片壯麗景觀,高山奇樹巍然聳立,氣勢雄奇磅薄。

    趙無極 - 其人其藝

    「天下之物,生於有,有生於無,後歸於無極。」 -- 出生時,祖父依老子的道德經,為他取名無極。身為長子,不依家業成為銀行家,卻對藝術情有獨鐘,15歲入杭州藝專,此時期受塞尚、馬諦斯等西方藝術風格影響,已於心中立志要擺脫傳統國畫的制限,六年科班學習於1941年畢業,後由恩師林風眠續留擔任助教。趙無極希望能繼續追尋更寛廣的藝術之路,1948年由家人支持下前往法國,這一待,便是一輩子。
    早於趙無極前往法國留學的藝術家前輩及師長們,始於民國初年是以由當時政府所提倡的「勤工儉學」運動而赴任,學習西方文明及技能以救國圖強。強調所謂的’’中學為體、西學為用’’。許多藝術家如林風眠、徐悲鴻等,均在數年學習之後便返回中國創辦學校、將所學貢獻以教育廣大的下一代。原本,趙無極的恩師林風眠也希望他能留學數年便回中國,但趙對藝術的強烈追求,讓他沒有停歇,繼續留在歐美。趙無極、朱德群等輩即便已因時空背景的不同而沒有了強烈的救國救民任務,但同儕亦或是在他們之後的東方藝術家均在不同時期面對自身文化及所學習的西方藝術間之衝突或融合。趙無極反其道而行,年輕求學時期即對老師所教授的對中國傳統藝術中的推崇及臨摹抗拒,到了巴黎也並未特意追求將中國文化置入其創作之中,因為他想被視為一個藝術家,而非被貼上地理標籤的異鄉遊子。因此初到巴黎的幾年中,刻意不用水墨作畫。

    五十年代,一趟美國之行的觀展經驗中,趙無極受到保羅﹒克利繪畫啟發,具象的圖騰逐漸退去,但趙無極的「克利時期」風景畫很快的進化,他聯想到將中國符號性的古文字與西方抽象概念相結合,發展出自己的藝術語言,從1954年開始創作「甲骨文系列」。克利的符號受到東方藝術的影響,但其作品卻引導著趙無極深入西方藝術的殿堂。

    自此,趙無極一躍而進入抽象的世界。1958年的作品「雲」之後,趙無極的作品不再有標題,僅在畫布背面註明創作日期,五十年代後期其作品進一步擺脫描寫性和情節性,符號也漸漸消散。

    逆境重生

    在創作《04.01.79》的時候,趙無極已經掌握全新的風格技巧,這段時期的作品流露一種隨心所欲而泰然自若的氣息。大自然的靜謐之美和壯闊瑰麗在趙無極的妙手下躍然於畫布上,這幅巨作展現的風采便是明證。這個新風格與他個人生活裡發生的連串事件關係非常密切。趙無極的第二任妻子久病多年,終在1972年逝世,使他陷入悲痛之中。這段痛苦艱難的歲月對於畫家而言是一場苦澀的考驗,他亦因此而重新鑽研水墨畫。趙無極在1973年再次執起畫筆,1977年左右開始創作大尺幅的作品。

    大片的深色渲染反映畫家對水墨的思索,同時亦是趙無極 1973年至1980年創作時期的重要標誌 。他本人曾經說過,其風格在1973年以後經歷了新轉變—— 相比起早前抽象作品裡所見的刻意控制,這時的他在創作中重獲平靜,達到了隨心所欲、波瀾不驚的境界。因此,《04.01.79》完成的那一年,可以說是趙無極在藝術追求上再登高峰的時期。

    《04.01.79》的藝術成就

    《04.01.79》構圖上精煉的三段式斜角切分,若似以飄渺的輕煙雲靄,繚繞著走勢奇峭的山壑,巧妙的主宰著觀者視覺移動的方向,儼然讓人緬想起中國水墨畫中「留白」的意趣,特別是倪瓚簡練的山水佈局。作品在色彩上也沿承了中國水墨精神,將大自然的色彩以低限的黑、褐、白,以最為簡約的方式來呈現,只在畫面中心幾處染上了少許的暖橘及青綠,與幾抹飛白相互呼應,彷彿澗壑在山岩間涓涓淌流而出的姿態。左下方及中央偏上的黑褐色筆觸,則類似水墨畫中皴筆手法,在大幅度的渲染所製造出的留白空間裡乾擦,具題點效果。唐張彥遠《歷代名畫記》曰:「運墨而五色具。」其中所指的五色,即焦、濃、重、淡、清,而每一種墨色又有干、濕、濃、淡的變化,趙無極在《04.01.79》裡將水墨畫中用墨的精妙,以西方媒材發揮得淋漓盡致,卻絲毫不露斧鑿痕跡,跨越古今及東西藩籬的精湛表現讓人折服。
    在《04.01.79》中雖仍可見到趙無極前期風格中磅礡的氣勢,但狂草時期風馳電掣的狂野筆觸卻已不見蹤跡;這個時期的作品中,他更顯從容不迫地以純熟精煉的筆趣,愈加著墨於空間的營造,渾然天成的大器裡,他更為作品注入了像是唐朝詩人王維《終南山》詩中「白雲回望合,青靄入看無」般內斂低迴、繾綣浪漫的詩意表現。藝評家法蘭索瓦‧賈克伯曾經這樣解讀趙無極繪畫:「透過畫作探索宇宙,同時重新創造,因而雋永不凡。作品展現光的誕生、水的源頭,而在一片混沌之外,隱約出現一股生命力。」無論在用色或是空間佈局上,《04.01.79》皆再再體現了中國水墨簡約之美,深深展現出趙無極寄情於畫布上的東方水墨情懷。在簡約之餘,筆觸表現更是氣韻生動。在西方藝術家之中,趙無極特別景仰林布蘭特,也在自傳中提及受到林布蘭特水洗技法的啟發,再加上恩師林風眠的警醒,讓他於七十年代「重拾毛筆、紙張、墨汁」,再探中國水墨的精深,重新思索抽象繪畫表現上如何去融貫。《04.01.79》正是趙無極將水墨精神在西方畫布上實踐的絕佳範例,在此他使用了松節油來稀釋油彩本身濃重遲滯的質感特性,而稀釋後的油彩則給予他更多的自由,讓他能以通透性高的油彩筆觸在畫布上盡情渲染或是堆疊,卻仍能創造出若似古代文人以筆墨在宣紙上落筆自如般流暢輕快的視覺效果。

    融古貫今、跨越東西: 《04.01.79》實例比較

    觀看《04.01.79》,可以感受到畫中靈動的氣勢,直覺聯想到集中國山水大成的兩宋時期佳作之精神 -- 直比宋朝大家李唐(約1050 – 1130)。李唐的畫技法精湛,章法剪裁巧妙,意境森然,大氣淋漓、讓人如入神仙之境,其風格顛覆後人對山水畫的理解及追隨。

    趙無極以簡練大氣的筆刷淋漓暢意的用不同技法及色彩劈釜、堆疊出景緻;巧妙的留白經營出天地,其氣勢與氛圍包覆著觀者:站在《04.01.79》前,隱隱約約我們可以看到畫中山明水秀、樹翠石潤、雲淡風清,畫面上方雲霧繚繞,山嵐向下吹佛,岩間泉水飛濺、崖下小路通幽,一霎時眼前的抽象畫作顯現出壯麗迷人的山水景緻。

    英國浪漫主義藝術家約瑟夫·瑪羅德·威廉·特納後期作品著重在展現天空、水面、火焰的光線、空氣中的霧、氣旋、風等等,並逐漸的將實物及細部的描繪隱去。批評家約翰•魯斯金描述特納的作品:「能驚心動魄地,真實地掌握大自然的脈搏。」特納為印象派的理論開辟了條道路。

    二十世紀海外華人藝術家趙無極、朱德群、曾海文等均受到特納的影響,趙無極作品當中耐人尋味的光,從五十年代的作品開始至六十年代狂草作品在處理光與氣的表現上尤其令折服。七十年代後的作品,道法自然及水氣靈動則是趙無極此階段的展現,就如《04.01.79》虛實交錯、畫面營造出高遠、遼濶的空間感。

    西方的藝術大師們如德拉克羅瓦、梵谷、馬蒂斯等的畫作中經常充滿著對東方世界的想像,然而大多只能算是對表面性的理解與描繪,是西方現代藝術對<東方情調>的小小結論。趙無極繪畫的成就在於他身為一個中國人,受東方藝術薰陶長大,其文化底蘊自然地將中式的山水,水墨的渲染、書法的寫意、細膩與虛實加上西方現代主義的奔放寓於油彩之中。在西方人看來,趙無極的繪畫迎合了他們普遍定義上對’’東方’’遐想的期待;而在華人眼中,人們所讚頌的是他將’’西方抽象’’繪畫的手法及理解東方化,使在精神上得以融合貫通,於是趙無極的繪畫便成為東、西方人們眼中的成功的視覺經驗。「人們都服從於一種傳統,我卻服從於兩種傳統。」趙無極在一次接受採訪時這樣說。趙無極在《04.01.79》裡將水墨畫中用墨的精妙,以西方媒材發揮得淋漓盡致,卻絲毫不露斧鑿痕跡,跨越古今及東西藩籬的精湛表現讓人折服。

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Property of an Important Asian Collector

04.01.79

1979
signed ‘Wou-Ki [in Chinese] ZAO’ lower right; further signed and titled ‘ZAO WOU-KI "4.1.79"’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
250 x 260 cm. (98 3/8 x 102 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1979, this work is to be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Foundation Zao Wou-Ki.
This work will be referenced in the archive of the Foundation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonné prepared by Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Foundation Zao Wou-Ki).

Estimate on Request

sold for HK$69,850,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 27 May 2018