Zao Wou-Ki - Contemporary Art Part II New York Friday, November 17, 2006 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private collection, Cincinatti

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot is a rare example of the artist's work from the mid-1950s, the period that marked Zao's transition between figurative painting and lyrical abstraction.

    Zao Wou-ki was born in Beijing in 1921. He studied traditional Chinese and modern Western art at the Hangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, where he was appointed assistant professor in 1941. As China's political situation approached a point of historical crisis, Zao moved to Paris in 1948 and rapidly rose to prominence as a member of the School of Paris. His early Parisian works were influenced by Klee and also drew on representative traditions in Chinese landscape painting; several consisted of rarefied landscapes of European cities composed of airy accumulations of mountains, bridges, buildings, rivers and ships.

    Quand il fait beau (On a nice day) is one of Zao's last semi-abstract works before the artist's full commitment to lyrical abstraction in 1956. Zao's paintings between 1953 and 1956 are marked by the titles he gave his paintings (his later works were only titled by their date of completion). In these years he was also inspired by archaic Chinese symbols, and his works of this period frequently featured ideographs clustered on the image plane or falling from the sky. Although the present lot identifies most strongly with Zao's earlier landscapes in terms of its fragmented images and alluringly radiant palette, it is also an unusual product of the artist's experimental phase between the delicate, formal compositions of those landscapes and the bold swaths of his later inkwash-inspired work.

    In this work, the sun-filled landscape holds aloft a sea of these ideographs as well as essentialized structures loosely derived from Chinese landscape tradition. These components float on the canvas with a freedom rarely witnessed in Zao's oeuvre, transforming the pictorial frame into a schema that is part architecture, part poetry. Another notable feature of this work is the central mass of uneven gold that suffuses the painting. L ike a smoky, sunlit dream, it frames the topography in an almost-aerial perspective, conferring a quixotic bearing that is usually elusive in Zao's work.


Quand il fait beau (On a nice day)

Oil on canvas.
23 3/4 x 28 5/8 in. (60.3 x 72.7 cm).
Signed and dated "Wou Ki [in Chinese] and Zao [in English] ‘56" lower right. Signed, titled and dated "‘Zao Wou Ki’ ‘quand il fait beau ‘55’" on the reverse. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist and will be included in the forthcoming oil paintings catalogue raisonné.

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $531,200

Contemporary Art Part II

17 Nov 2006, 10am & 2pm
New York