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    Zao Wou-Ki, Port - 29.04.52
    Christie's Hong Kong, 24 May 2021 Sold for HK$30,010,000 


    A great artist will inevitably undergo multiple stages on their journey. Sans titre ("Notre Dame") created by Zao Wou-Ki in the 1950s is an iconic work marking his path towards abstraction.


    In 1948, Zao Wou-Ki and his first wife Xie Jinglan (Lalan) moved to Paris together. When Zao Wou-Ki first arrived in Paris, he absorbed elements of Western art like a sponge. Prior to this, he was only able to view Western paintings at the Hangzhou National College of Art. In Paris, these original works unfolded before his eyes, and he immersed himself in exhibits at major art museums. We can see from his works from 1948 to 1950 he attempts to explore a new direction and gradually began to disconnect from figurative paintings. However, some details still bear the shadow of his mentor Lin Fengmian, the principal of Hangzhou National College of Art.



    Zao Wou-Ki, Untitled (Golden City), 1951
    Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 18 April 2021, Sold for HK$74,453,000


    Judging by its style, Sans titre ("Notre Dame") was created by Zao Wou-Ki in the early 1950s, with the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki having estimated the year of creation to be circa 1952. When he first arrived in Paris, Zao Wou-Ki enrolled in a sketching course at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where he became friends with Sam Francis and Hans Hartung, as well as neighbours with Alberto Giacometti. Together, they all went on to become masters of modern art.


    Chu The-Chun, Rouge lourd et vert leger, 1959
    Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 31 March 2018, Sold for HK$61,554,500

    In 1951, Zao Wou-Ki went to Switzerland to showcase his first exhibition of lithographs. In Switzerland, he viewed the works of Paul Klee which opened a new window for a breakthrough. Klee's works utilised a geometric structure to present a poetic aesthetic between the concrete and abstract, providing Zao Wou-Ki with answers to a new direction and language for his paintings at that stage. Zao deconstructed the external scene in his own mind, dissecting the forms to explore a unique type of deconstruction that uniquely belonged to him. Thus, the church building and visitors of the Notre Dame de Paris are transformed into simple lines. The slender figures at the bottom right of the canvas look up at the church, derived from the figures of Giacometti. It can be seen that the artist was deconstructing the concrete and moving towards abstraction.


    Zao Wou-Ki,12.04.60, 1960
    Poly Auction Hong Kong, 21 April 2021, Sold for HK$60,000,000

    In Zao Wou-Ki’s creative journey, Sans titre ("Notre Dame") serves as one of the few works with symbolised figurative architecture. It marks Zao's exploration of abstraction from symbolic imagery painting to expressional abstract painting. As the most representative historical building and Catholic church in Paris, Notre Dame de Paris tends to be filled with tourists. This magnificent and complex Gothic architecture, recreated here with the artist's use of engraving brushwork, is transformed and reproduced in the mind of the artist. Klee’s influence is evident in the transformed architectural lines, thus making this a representative work from the artist’s Klee period.

    Gerhard Richter, Kerzenschein (Candle-light), 1984
    Lot 16 - Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction Evening Sale, 30 November 2021
    Estimate HK$55,000,000 - 75,000,000/ US$7,050,000-9,620,000


    The two hues of bright red and violet-blue in the painting shows Zao Wou-Ki’s ingenious use of multi-layered colours, creating a sense of space in the Notre Dame de Paris. In 1949, Zao Wou-Ki tried lithographs for the first time. He added a lot of water to present lithographs through the traditional methods of Chinese ink painting. In the painting of Sans titre ("Notre Dame"), it is as if the rising sun is reflected within the red colour blocks. The multi-layered colour effect is like the smudging and spreading of ink on rice paper, forming different densities and tints. The thin and light effects of the artist’s paintings started from his creation of lithographs. It can be seen from this work that Zao who is a master of Eastern art strived to absorb Western artistic thought: it is he who eventually blends and integrates into a generation of masters towards the end of his artistic journey. 



     Mark Rothko, Red, 1968
    Collection of the Guggenheim Museum, New York 
    A picture containing text, tree, paintingDescription automatically generated

    Li Keran, Wan Sha Hong Bian, 1963
    Collection of the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China 


    • Provenance

      Private Collection, USA
      Private Collection, New York
      Private Collection, California
      Christie's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2010, lot 1070
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen, ed., Zao Wou-Ki: Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures, Volume I 1935-1958, Paris, 2019, no. P-0305, pp. 153, 299 (illustrated)

Property of an Eminent Private Asian Collector


Sans titre ("Notre Dame")

signed ‘Wou-Ki [in Chinese] ZAO’ lower right; further signed and dedicated 'Pour Paul Leaf Très amicalement Wou-Ki [in Chinese] ZAO ZAO WOU-ki' on the reverse
oil on canvas
37 x 43 cm. (14 5/8 x 16 7/8 in.)
Painted circa 1952, this work is registered in the archives of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki under archive number P-0305, and will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki.

Full Cataloguing

HK$7,500,000 - 10,000,000 

Sold for HK$10,051,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021