Zao Wou-Ki - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • Introduction


    Brume d’automne from 1949 provides valuable insight into Zao Wou-Ki’s development at the end of the forties, and showcases an emerging style in its earliest iteration, where one detects a melding of Chinese ink traditions and European avant-garde: the former he received in-depth training in since at a tender age; the latter he encountered when he first arrived in Paris one year before the present work was executed.


    Though the subject matter portrayed in Brume d’automne is not unique (for landscape is a mode long established in both Chinese and European art history), Zao’s rendering and method of execution are innovative. In the present piece, we see a pared down landscape reproduced in earthly tones of greens and browns; fractal patterns of trees line the background as a trio of horses in the foreground whiny and gallop next to the outlines of a house or a well, surrounded loosely by white picket fences as a cluster of birds fly overhead. The painting epitomises pastoral bliss, and yet this effect has been realised through gentle allusions to forms, achieved through deft use of lines and colour. Even the idyllic nature of the scene and particularly the titular Autumn mist is hinted at using a formless coloured haze that has descended onto the work. 




    Paul Klee, Glance of a Landscape, 1929
    Collection of Philadelphia Museum of Art



    One can detect a hint of Paul Klee’s landscapes in this work, and in its skeletal evocation of forms, it is clear that Zao was under the influence of the Swiss master’s interpretation of the world. The work is also reminiscent of another French-Chinese émigré artist and Zao’s contemporary, Sanyu, whose boldly executed scenes of bucolic bliss, sensual nudes, or vivid still-life paintings represented the height of avant-garde at the time. Both artists alluded to Chinese landscapes and painterly methods while undeniably departing from its traditions: Zao famously remarked that it was only upon his arrival in France that he rediscovers his Chinese roots, and with the gift of distance was able to capture important stylistic aesthetics.




    Sanyu, Galloping Horses, 2017
    Collection of the National Museum of History, Taiwan


    "Wou-ki rediscovers that reduction, so clear in Chinese painting, of the narrative aspect of landscape which is generally present to act as a springboard into the infinity of the world." 
    — Pierre Daix 


    Brume d’automne also coincides with a rare and short period of early watercolour painting and subsequent dry-point etching and lithography that the artist creates soon after he arrives in Paris. One of the most significant bodies of works he produces in this style is a collection to accompany his friend and poet Henri Michaux’s poetry, Lecture par Henri Michaux de huit lithographies de Zao Wou-Ki (A Reading by Henri Michaux of eight lithographs by Zao Wou-Ki, 1950). One can detect the overlaps of this style and period within Brume d’Automne: its subject matter notwithstanding, the almost-hieroglyphic, simplified forms fill the dry-point pieces at this time as Zao sought to capture the scenes described in Michaux’s texts.




    Lecture II, 1949
    Lithography in three colours
    © 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich 


    “What milk surrounds the dead star,
    what whiteness spreads in the sky!
    At the bottom the meeting took place
    The arms made to take each other are caught

    Space is silence

    This silence is black
    In essence
    There is nothing left..”
    — Excerpt from Henri Michaux’s Lecture


    A Limitless Legacy


    The formidable oeuvre of Zao Wou-Ki ('Boundless') rings true to his namesake: Zao was an artist whose inexorable fervour for creation was truly limitless, and in his lifetime he produced a body of works that encompassed such media as canvas, works on paper, scrolls, ceramics, amongst others. The artist seamlessly weaved together the divergent cultural strands that made up his being, effortlessly marrying Eastern philosophy with an otherwise Western medium, to create an inimitable legacy of works housed in the most prestigious institutions across the world. Born the son of a successful banker in Beijing, Zao settled in Paris in April 1948 after a 36 day voyage by boat in hopes of honing his artistic capabilities. This supposed short sojourn became a permanent residency in France, where Zao plunged himself into the epicentre of the Parisian art scene. Like many of his artistic peers who identified with multiple cultures, in many ways his works perched on a threshold: inhabiting the liminal space or ‘in-betweenness’ of both his Chinese heritage as well as the post-war school of painting in Paris.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Charpentier, Paris
      Private Collection, United Kingdom
      Private Collection, United Kingdom (acquired in 2018)

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Salon des Tuileries, 1949

    • Literature

      Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen, ed., Zao Wou-Ki: Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures, Volume I 1935-1958, Paris, 2019, no. P-0083, pp. 78, 274 (illustrated)

Property from an Important British Collection


Brume d’automne

signed and dated 'Wou-Ki [in Chinese] ZAO 1949/9' lower right; further signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'No. 7 ZAO WOU-KI 51 Bis, RUE DU MOuLIN vert 14e ""BRUME d'AUTOMNE""' on the reverse
oil on masonite
64.5 x 53.8 cm. (25 3/8 x 21 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1949, this work is registered in the archives of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki under archive number P-0083, and will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,500,000 - 7,500,000 

Sold for HK$4,788,000

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