Details & Cataloguing

20th Century Chinese Art

Hong Kong

Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
signed in pinyin and Chinese; signed in pinyin, titled and dated 22.3.61 on the reverse
oil on canvas
114 by 146 cm. 44 7/8 by 57 1/2 in.
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This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Foundation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue rasionné (Information provided by Foundation Zao Wou-Ki).


Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
Important Private French Collection


Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1978, plate 300, p. 285
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Hier et Demain, Paris, 1978, plate 300, p. 285
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1979, plate 300, p. 285
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 1979, plate 300, p. 285
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Cercle d'Art, Barcelona, 1986, plate 332, p. 325
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Cercle d'Art, Paris, 1986, plate 332, p. 325

Catalogue Note

Important Private French Collection
Masterpiece by Zao Wou-Ki, 22.3.61, makes its debut in the market

Cosmic reverberations in maritime metaphors

The 1960s marked the zenith of Zao Wou-Ki’s career, when the artist successfully tapped the best from Chinese and Western masters of the prior four decades to create his own unique masterpieces. In 22.3.61, Zao not only exhibited a firm grasp of the art of abstraction but responding to the natural beauty of the European countryside, he also generated vast landscapes and seascapes in the spiritual realm of Song dynasty masters. It is not an exaggeration to claim that this work demonstrates Zao’s stature as a grand master.

Eastern imageries that burst out of European landscapes

22.3.61 features an imaginary space that strides both East and West. Amidst the waves of Prussian blues are many textures; a line shaped like a taichi curve seemingly divides the composition into two halves of an ocean, representing yin and yang. What is even more striking is the central area where white, black and blue intersect, three colours seemingly at loggerheads. These powerful surges establish not only the composition’s tension, but also Zao’s artistic achievement, namely his interpretation and creation of abstract space at that time. While living in Europe, Zao Wou-Ki constantly came face to face with Western masters and masterpieces. In addition, this totally new cultural and natural landscape that is Europe utterly changed his thinking and understanding of his own position, opening a new path for Zao to immerse himself in those great Eastern imageries. 

Chinese currents: analysis and re-creation

The Song Dynasty has been touted as the “Renaissance of the East.” Throughout his life, Zao Wou-Ki admired Song Dynasty landscape masters, hoping to emulate the spiritual realms created on their scrolls. In 22.3.61, Zao isolated the element of water, capturing its spirit but discarding its form and reshaping it anew. Within the field of Chinese art, water had long played a supporting role in generating moods. If we search among those works where water is the overriding subject, the best examples are Song Dynasty painter Zhao Fu’s Jiangshan Wanli Tu (Ten Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains) and Ma Yuan’s Shui Tu (Water). Especially with Shui Tu, the painter created a series of 12 works depicting the many manifestations of water. The synthesis of power and space in 22.3.61 was clearly influenced by the above masters. Yet Zao Wou-Ki differentiates himself by using colours to replace lines as the principal motif, so the canvas appears even richer and more extensive. The sense of space is constructed amidst the nuances in colour transformations. 

Extracting of the best of Western art, creating intense and free-spirited abstract aesthetics

As early as ancient Greece and Rome, there were imaginative representations of the sea. By the era of maritime travel, people cultivated tremendous courage to battle the strong waves. 19th-century British landscape master J.M.W. Turner attained the pinnacle of his career with canvasses associated with maritime grandeur. In the 1960s, Zao Wou-Ki found inspiration for constructing abstract space from Turner’s works. He also discovered a method to create a sense of space through Cézanne’s use of oil pigments in the latter’s mature landscapes. As Kandinsky once said, “Almost without exception, blue refers to the domain of abstraction and immateriality.” 22.3.61 is dominated by blue, a conscious choice by the artist after carefully studying the colour theories of many Western masters. Zao found an entry point where the spirit of the East can be fused with modern abstraction. 

Many modern Chinese artists had set their goals to fuse China and West, but only a few were successful like Zao Wou-Ki in realizing their goals. 22.3.61 was passed onto a French private collection directly from the artist in the late 1960s and has not been shown in public for more than half a century, until now. This is not only a stunning piece of art on the aesthetic level but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors.

20th Century Chinese Art

Hong Kong