“I put on a floral-print shirt today and I’ve turned into a butterfly … From the garden I gather flowers, making honey from them. Paintings are my honey; colours are my flowers; velocity is what’s required of a thief – he must paint as speedily as he draws a gun. My nickname ‘flower thief’ has nothing to do with martial arts novels. I create oil paintings, utilising vibrant colours to fashion a magnificent garden. The flower thief is merely a honey butterfly.” – Walasse Ting


Born in Wuxi in Jiangsu Province in 1929, Walasse Ting was among a mere handful of 20th-century artists who moved to France and travelled to America, forging for himself a notable career in the international arena. He was a nomad, having lived variously in Jiangsu, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Paris, New York and Holland. Apart from painting, he wrote poetry and prose; he also sang and danced, drawing from life the fullest pleasure and gusto. Ting was certainly a bon vivant: he cherished his friends and fine food, transforming his experiences into multifarious colours, wielding them as tokens of his love for life. Ting called himself a “butterfly” or “flower thief,” his art inspired by beauty and goodness, emotions and desires, and all the spices of life. He loved women, flowers and animals, and they served well as his artistic subjects. Ting never restricted himself in his choice of artistic medium: apart from standard canvas and paper of the West, beginning in the late 1970s he also used fine Chinese paper (xuanzhi) associated with traditional ink-and-brush paintings, applying large swathes of acrylic paint with wild abandon and boundless energy, which became his trademark. Ting was an expeditious painter, seizing every precious moment in life, throwing himself completely into depicting all the things that he loved. 

Ting’s output has enjoyed a large following. His works have been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern, Guggenheim Museum, Musée Guimet and the Shanghai Art Museum (recently renamed the China Art Museum). Sotheby’s has gathered ten paintings by Walasse Ting from 1966 to 2000 encompassing these classic themes in oil paintings, watercolours and sketches, chronicling the artist’s multiple talents in different media.

Unbridled, Passionate Spirit: Experimenting with Abstract Art

After Walasse Ting moved from Shanghai to Paris in 1952, he began to experiment with abstract art. Works from this early period are dominated by bold strokes in monochromatic black, evoking the subject of sex. Ting moved to New York in 1958 when Andy Warhol’s Pop Art and Jackson Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism were at their heyday. During that time, Ting’s personal style underwent a significant change. He introduced dazzling colours into his paintings, navigating between representation and semi-representation; his paintings resonated with great visual power. Raining Sunshine and Hundred Flowers Garden, both completed in the late 1960s, are representative works of that period.


Pollock shattered the age-old convention of painting with his unconscious splatters and drips. Although Walasse Ting explored abstraction, his works are never classified as abstract art. They always contain some vestige of representation, providing viewers a few clues in decoding the shapes they see on an instinctual level. In Hundred Flowers Garden, strong colours that seemingly come straight out of the tubes are fashioned into a bountiful garden. Colour pigments are splashed, splattered, even smeared thickly on green grass, as if a huge rainstorm had descended on the canvas. While Walasse Ting did not actually draw any floral shapes, these irregular patterns aptly represent a hundred flowers in bloom, filled with vitality and passion that strike at the viewer’s heart. 

In Raining Sunshine, Walasse Ting retains both reason and emotion. Rectangular grids in blue are covered, overlapped and overlaid in yellow paint, their shapes deconstructed and reconstructed ad infinitum, generating energy for life anew. If one examines the painting carefully, one can sense the energy emanating from the artist’s hands and body. Brilliant colours dance around in counterpoint, their juxtaposition creating a concerted effect like an exhilarating movement in a symphony. To Walasse Ting, colour is language and sound, perhaps love, even life. Hundred Flowers Garden and Raining Sunshine originally belonged to an established collection by the prominent New York socialite and philanthropist Alma Catsman, who was active in the international golf scene. In her collection were also works by Joan Mitchell and New York abstract expressionists James Brooks and Kenneth Noland. Catsman collected Ting’s works because she was attracted to their vibrant colours and intense emotional content, a testament to Walasse Ting’s international appeal.

I left China more than three decades ago. Sometimes, during spring or on a rainy day, I’d easily become homesick. With a little Chinese music, a bowl of wonton soup, a sheet of fine Chinese paper, ink in a bottle, a brush and a cup of tea, I start to paint women as if buoyed by the spring breeze.

Red blossoms and green willows radiating vivacity
──Walasse Ting


Walasse Ting’s Brand of Humour

 Apart from forays into abstract art, the most celebrated within Walasse Ting’s output were his portraits of women. Jolie Dames, Where is Walasse?, Women with Flower Bouquets, Nu Rose, Ladies with Parrots, Three Beauties and Woman Holding a Fan currently on offer all belong to this category: they display different facets of the feminine allure.


Apart from painting female figures, Walasse Ting was partial to animals. Cats, horses and birds are all familiar images in his paintings. Ting often injected whimsy into them: these animals are always lively and expressive, their bodies plump and rotund, emblemmatic of Ting’s unique sense of aesthetics. Horse and Ladies and Green Cat are prime examples. How can a cat be green? How about a blue horse? In Walasse Ting’s paintings, everything is possible. His daring infused his works with lively energy and inimitable charm.