Zao Wou-Ki - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, May 25, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Zao Wou-Ki, one of the most celebrated Chinese modern artists in the world, was born in Beijing and trained at the National School of Arts in Hangzhou under the tutelage of the pioneering modern Chinese painter Lin Fengmian. Zao's move to Paris as a young artist led to the development of a singular style which moved freely between Chinese painting techniques and Western-inspired abstract compositions, and the creation of works which demonstrated a profound affinity with both traditions.

    Part of a generation of Chinese artists who went abroad in the 1940s to study and eventually stayed in their adopted countries, Zao avoided the fate of many contemporaries in this 'lost generation' who struggled to establish a name for themselves in the West whilst also remaining unknown in their native countries. For him, Paris proved to be the catalyst for the next phase of his artistic journey, granting him the long-desired freedom to create and innovate. Zao quickly rose to prominence as an abstract gestural painter, befriending other Paris émigrés such as Pierre Soulages and Joan Miro. Originally inspired by the Impressionists, he was particularly taken by the work of Paul Klee, the Swiss avant-garde painter who explored the expressive potential of colour and its relationship to music, spirituality and folk art (see for example Klee's They're Biting, 1920). Zao embraced lyrical abstraction, which provided new avenues for personal expression in his work. By the mid-1950s he re-incorporated Chinese influences more boldly into his work, at times substituting calligraphy for his previously loose and winding brushstrokes. Zao explained in a 1962 interview with the French magazine Preuves, ‘Although the influence of Paris is undeniable in all my training as an artist, I also wish to say that I have gradually rediscovered China.’ He added, ‘Paradoxically, perhaps, it is to Paris that I owe this return to my deepest origins.’ His travels in the West also led to encounters with the Abstract Expressionists, including Barnett Newman and Franz Kline. He experimented with Indian ink, but from the 1970s onwards his paintings eschewed overt lines and gestures in favour of a creating a heightened sense of spontaneity and otherworldly serenity.

    22.05.2002 (like all of Zao's mature works, named after the date it was completed) is a beautiful example of how Zao's artistic and personal journey culminated in a sublime, even spiritual, dynamism in his works. The canvas is suffused with light, the warm glow of spring tempered with rich, earthy soil. His characteristic diluted ink wash-like oils sweep across the canvas, grounded by subtle painterly gestures reminiscent of the Chinese oracle bone script which appeared in his earlier works (see for example Ailleurs, 1955). But the youthful energy of earlier abstract works has evolved into a search for a more profound, nuanced inner landscape, the same kind eulogised by Chinese literati painters through the ages. Enriched by his artistic encounters both in the East and West, in this season of his life Zao had come to embody the meaning of his given name, Wou-Ki – an artist with 'no limits'.

    22.05.2002 is from a collection spanning nearly four decades, one which features a singular preoccupation on fine art created by the world’s most renowned Asian artists that resided and worked in postwar Europe. Phillips is thrilled to have the opportunity to offer a selection from this collection across our upcoming Day and Evening sales of 20th Century & Contemporary Art in Hong Kong, a collection as unique in its personality and passion as the collector himself.

Property from an Important Hong Kong Collection



signed 'Wou-Ki [in Chinese] ZAO' lower right; further signed, titled and dated 'ZAO WOU-KI "22.05.2002"' on the reverse
oil on canvas
73 x 92 cm. (28 3/4 x 36 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2002, this work is accompanied by two certificates of authenticity, issued by the artist and Alisan Fine Arts respectively. This work will be referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné prepared by Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki).

HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for HK$7,350,000

Contact Specialist

Isaure de Viel Castel
Head of Department, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 26 May 2019