ZAO WOU-KI (1920 – 2013)
Kootz Gallery label affixed to the stretcher on the reverse 
signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 19.11.59 on the reverse 
oil on canvas 
114 by 146 cm; 44 ⅞ by 57 ½ in.

Provenance: Kootz Gallery, New York, 1959
Acquired directly from the above by Upjohn Company, Kalamazoo, Michigan, on 1 September 1961
Private Asian Collection
Christie’s, Hong Kong, 29 November 2009, Lot 1004
Acquired directly from the above by the present important private Asian collector

Price Realised: HKD 110,840,500 Estimate: HKD 60,000,000 — HKD 80,000,000  Auction Closed: 8 July 2020

Zao Wou-Ki, the Chinese-French Master was born in Peking, China on February 1 1920. Zao Wou-Ki’s skills incorporated western and eastern ideals throughout in his works.

Zao Wao-Ki ventured out to the United States in 1957. At the time, Samuel Kootz, an infamous gallerist in new york City was known for representing abstract expressionists at his gallery such as Robert Motherwell and Willem De Kooning. It was around the 1950s when Kootz was desirous of augmenting the artists he featured in the gallery and amplifying the gallery’s mission to internationalize itself. It was in the fall of 1957 when Samuel Kootz and Zao Wou-Ki met each other and this allowed Zao Wou-Ki to become an international phenomenon gaining exposure as an up and coming artist. Zao Wou-Ki’s career took off and he was in popular demand alongside artists such as Helen Frankethaler, Pierre Soulages, Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, Adolph Gottlieb, and countless other Abstract Expressionists during the 1960’s.  

English Old Master J.M.W. Turner’s work truly inspired and transcended the later works of Zao Wou-Ki. His style enveloped into something free flowing, chaotic, erratic, and utterly cosmic. There is a prolific accentuation on the value of chaos and cosmos within Zao Wou-Ki’s paintings. Within a multitude of his works throughout the years, he has had series depicting tumultuous weather and earthly disruptions. For instance, from 1954 until 1959 he created works known as the Oracle Bone Period at the time which gradually shifted to Zao Wou-Ki mastering the Hurricane Period from 1959 until 1972. The Hurricane period in particular exudes a wild energy which is closely associated with J.M.W Turner’s oil painting created in 1842, entitled Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth

Blue was a color which Zao Wou-Ki valued throughout his lifetime and work. With the color Blue, Zao placed a rather profuse emphasis and concentration on this color as it presented a variety of concepts. Blue was the color of the Virgin Mary, the queen of the heavens representing her vows to chastity and devotion to faith and the church. Blue represents the heavenly, celestial realm which those heavenly bodies seek to reach in the afterlife. Blue is a color which symbolizes queens and nobles of Europe. It was a color worn symbolizing regality and one’s upper echelon position in society. Blue represents the countless thousands of porcelain vases handmade and painted with dragon and wave motifs during the Yongle and Xuande periods of the Ming dynasty in Chinas, Zao Wou-Ki’s native country, (Zao Wou-Ki, 19.11.59, Sotheby’s).

Within this sphere and realm of dark obscurity and peril there is also a calmness that swoons us and takes our breath away with the brilliants blues. We can feel the abundant, vigorous presence of spirits lingering throughout this cosmic disarray. Zao Wao-Ki awakens our souls by adding white highlights to the center of the Hurricane which sharply contrast against the wild black and dark blue brushstrokes of paint. Surrounding the circular hurricane at the center are more subdued and lighter blues. The texture is soft and feathery compared to the center which looks as though paint and consistently has been layered and scraped. Towards the center the texture is rough however the white accents provide this powerful glow partially dominating the painting.

By: Isabella Di Scipio

Author: Bella Di Scipio

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