Lot 536
  • 536

Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)

25,000,000 - 32,000,000 HKD
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  • Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
  • 10.03.83 (diptych)
  • oil on canvas
signed in pinyin and Chinese; signed in pinyin, inscribed Diptyque, titled and dated 10.3.83 on the reverse of each panel; Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo exhibition label affixed to the stretcher on the reverse


Acquired directly from the artist by an Important Swiss Private Collector


Beijing, National Art Museum of China, Zao Wou-Ki, September, 1983
Hangzhou, Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Zao Wou-Ki, September, 1983
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Autour de Michel Ragon, June 15 - September 15, 1984
Paris, Galerie de France, Zao Wou-Ki, 1984, 1984
Paris, Galerie Artcurial, Centre d'Art Plastique contemporain, Zao Wou-Ki, 1955-1988,  September - November, 1988
Aix-en-Provence, Fondation Vasarely, Zao Wou-Ki, collection personnelle, 1955-1989, July - August, 1991
Lisbon, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Zao Wou-Ki, oleos, aguadas, February 11 - March 8, 1992
Luxembourg, Festival international d'Echternach, Zao Wou-Ki, peintures, encres de Chine, estampes, June - July, 1992
Taipei, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Zao Wou-Ki Retrospective, March 27 - May 30, 1993
Mexico City, Fundacion Cultural Televisa, Centro Cultural Arte Contemporaneo A. C., Zao Wou-Ki Cuarenta años de pintura (1954-1994), March 3 - May 29, 1994
Pérouges, Maison des Princes, Zao Wou-Ki, June - September, 1994
Zaragoza, Centro de Exposiciones y congresos, la Iber-Caja de Ahorros, Zao Wou-Ki Retrospectiva, March 14 - April 12,1995
Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, A retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, January - April, 1996
Hong Kong, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Infinite Image and Space. A retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, May 3 - July 28, 1996
Shanghai, Shanghai Museum, Zao Wou-Ki, 60 years of paintings, November 4, 1998 - January 29, 1999
Beijing, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Zao Wou-Ki, 60 years of paintings, February 11 - March 11, 1999
Guanzhou, Guangdong Provincial Museum, Zao Wou-Ki, 60 years of paintings, April 21 - June 20, 1999
Brussels, Ixelles Museum, Zao Wou-Ki, June 1 - September 30, 2001
Chenonceau, Château de Chenonceau, Zao Wou-Ki - Rêve de nature, June 15 - November 3, 2002
Helsinki, Taidehalli - Helsinki Kunsthalle, Zao Wou-Ki, March 1 - April 27, 2003
Dunkirk, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Zao Wou-Ki, La Quête du silence, April 4 - August 30, 2004


Autour de Michel Ragon, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes, 1984, p. 86, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki, 1984, Galerie de France, Paris, 1984, p. 15, illustrated in colour
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Cercle d'Art, Paris, 1986, plate 240, p. 296, illustrated in colour
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1986, plate 240, p. 296, illustrated in colour
François Cheng, ed., Overseas Chinese artists series - Zao Wou-Ki, Lingnan Art publishing house, Guangzhou and Joint Publishing Co. Ltd. Coll., Hong Kong, 1988, p. 60, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki, collection personnelle, 1955-1989, Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence, 1991, plate 15, p. 28 - 29, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki, oleos, aguadas, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, 1992, plate 14 - 15, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki, peintures, encres de Chine, estampes, Festival international d'Echternach, Luxembourg, 1992, plate 7
Zao Wou-Ki Retrospective, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, 1993, plate 39, p. 64, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki Retrospective Brochure, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, 1993, p. 17, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki Cuarenta años de pintura (1954-1994), Fundacion Cultural Televisa, Centro Cultural Contemporaneo A. C., Mexico City, 1994, plate 22, p. 99 - 100, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki, Maison des Princes, Pérouges, 1994, plate 8
Zao Wou-Ki Retrospectiva, Centro de Exposiciones y congresos, la Iber-Caja de Ahorros, Zaragoza, 1995, plate 11, p. 21, illustrated in colour
A retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, 1995, plate 61, p. 182, illustrated in colour
Infinite Image and Space. A retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1996, plate 51, p. 139, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki, 60 years of paintings, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 1998, plate 67, p. 191, illustrated in colour
Bernard Noel, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, grands formats - Au bord du visible, Cercle d'Art, Paris, 2000, plate 45, illustrated in colour
Collectif - Zao Wou-Ki, IVAM Centre Julio Gonzalez, Valencia, 2001, p. 18, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki, Taidehalli - Helsinki Kunsthalle, Helsinki, 2003, p. 23, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki, La Quête du silence, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dunkirk, 2004, plate 57, p. 76, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki, Flammarion, Paris, 2009, p. 234-235, illustrated in colour
Zao Wou-Ki
, Kwai Fung Art Publishing House, Hong Kong, 2010, p. 234-235, illustrated in colour


The work is overall in good condition. There are slight craquelures and accretions across the surface. There is a minor paint loss 9 cm away from the top right corner. There is no evidence of restoration under UV light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Important Swiss Private Collection
Zao Wou-Ki’s resplendent diptych

In the 1980s, Chinese abstract master Zao Wou-Ki reached a new pinnacle in his career. During that decade, numerous world-class museums and international galleries—among them New York’s Pierre Matisse Gallery and Kootz Gallery—vied to present his solo exhibitions, further reaffirming his prominence in the artistic milieu. Among Zao’s advocates were celebrated art dealers; well-known collectors and museums also purchased his works. As the artist has attested, that was a period when his fame and accomplishments scaled new heights internationally. For example, in 1980, he held a solo exhibition in Luxembourg’s Musee de l’Etat. The following year, a Zao Wou-Ki solo show was organized by the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, which subsequently travelled to five major museums in Japan. From 1982 to 1983, Zao was also featured in large-scale exhibitions at the Singapore National Museum of Modern Art (predecessor of the Singapore Art Museum), Taipei’s National Museum of History Museum and Beijing’s National Art Museum of China.

Zao became a major player on the international art scene as a trailblazer in abstract art at that time. No longer was he merely a Chinese artist, or a Chinese artist living in Paris. He had stepped out of the “old world,” having proven himself universal. 10.03.83 on offer dates from this lofty decade marked by creative self-confidence.

Transcending heaven and earth

Beginning in 1966, Zao Wou-Ki began to explore new forms of expression. He sought inspiration from Western art, adapting into his own creation polyptychs of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.Those early polyptychs are mostly altarpieces in the forms of diptychs and triptychs that portray scenes of saints and humans. Marked by a strong narrative, they are often eye-catching large-scale works that aptly serve the purpose of proselytizing the Christian faith. In many ways, this genre relates closely to the ancient Asian art of folding screens. Although Zao adopted such a traditional format, he eschewed straightforward narrative or ornamental qualities of the convention. Instead, he injected his own individual expression and innovative ideas, forging an entirely new path. In 1966, Zao painted his first triptych, 01.04.66 (195x258 cm).

Characterized by forceful, abstract cursive strokes, it is a powerful work. Zao once said, “When faced with a large canvas, I am determined to attack the empty space, not only to fill it, but also to give life to it, injecting into it all that I possess. I want to express movement, undulating motion or lingering sensation, as well as wind and lightning. I wield my large brush with energy and force, sometimes using my palette knife to knead the paints onto the canvas, as if compressing them into that space. I feel carefree and content in the chaotic mix of colours and densely overlapping brushstrokes. Every day marks a new battle as I contemplate how to conquer such space.” Between the late 1960s and the 1990s, Zao Wou-Ki constantly challenged himself, completing several imposingly grand, large-scale works, and 10.03.83 is a representative sample.

What is remarkable is that this work dating from 1983 reveals a distinctly different mindset, bearing witness to new brushwork and use of colours compared with the artist’s earlier output. By the 1980s, Zao had already rejected such notions as “battle” and “conquer.” Having travelled the world and amassed experience in the art world for two decades, Zao has attained contentment; he has learnt to create art without any restrictions, handling everything with ease. Viewers can detect Zao evoking Chang Dai-chien’s splashed-ink technique on the large canvas (200x325cm) as layers of vibrant colours are superimposed upon each other.

The canvas is divided into upper and lower portions by a line that symbolizes the horizon. A bright colour radiates, rich and resplendent, two-thirds of the way in the upper portion. In an area that is earthy brown, you can find reds with burgundy tinge, purplish reds, various shades of indigo, along with flashes of bright green and hazy greyish purple intermixed therein, as well as sprinkles of golden yellow. Within the splashes of paints that add much to the texture, they invoke nature akin to a gorgeous landscape of flowers, a galaxy of stars, or stone rubbings of ancient myths that evoke the infinite possibilities of nature, heaven and earth. The lower part of the diptych portrays scenery vista akin to having climbed up Mount Tai and surveying the horizon, a pastel orange and light blue cloudy mist that is expansive and embracing, as well as the dark grey stones under one’s feet. This work contains countless details and attracts unending interest, enticing viewers to lose themselves therein.Appreciating this painting is just like savouring a glass of wine with a richly gradated finish, or tasting the supreme thrill of living as one with nature. Words can barely describe the visual and emotional impact as well as the resonance created by this canvas.

This unique experience reminds us of what renowned French art critic Jacques Rigaud once wrote: “After viewing a Zao Wou-Ki painting for a long time, I like to close my eyes. As I close my eyes, colours and countless shapes, as well as images rise to the surface. Furthermore, I am consumed by all sorts of sensations, as if I were listening to music that I’ve never encountered. What is overriding is an indescribable sense of happiness and comfort, as if passing time carries me to a peaceful and beautiful horizon.”  The richly textured perceptions and the tranquility and satisfaction thereafter are what 10.03.83 bequeaths to us.

Boundless nature of Asian aesthetics

In this composition, we can detect the aesthetics of Asian traditional landscape painting; the work also exhibits a veritable balance between empty and full. In fact, Zao Wou-Ki has publicly professed his admiration of and how he learnt from such northern Song painters as Fan Kuan and Guo Xi. In 1983, Zao had the opportunity to visit Taipei because of his exhibition at the National Museum of History. While there, he brought his wife Francoise Marquet along to visit Chang Dai-chien and his studio; they came face to face with many of Chang’s works. The artists also had the opportunity to discuss life and art. Zao might have found resonance in Chang’s dramatic late works distinguished by the splashedink technique. This influence is clearly evident in the refined and majestic splendour of 10.03.83.

Just as art critic George Duby once said, “[the textured use of space in this work] is like the coarse, oppressed, dark, rugged and dignified mountains, stones and earth in classical Chinese paintings combined with the emotional outpouring in flowing water, the sky, clouds and mist in the Chinese tradition, as well as that intricate balance between haze and light breeze.” Zao Wou-Ki has traversed the paths among light, colour and material. As a result, he brings forth profound mysteries via vibrant colours and strokes, revealing to us how nature can transform the sight and sound of mountains and rivers.

A rare and refined treasure

There are very few polyptychs, numbering barely twenty, within Zao Wou-Ki’s oeuvre. These large canvasses fully capture the artist’s creative aspirations as well as his steadfast determination; they also serve as vessels for his emotions and creative fancy. Other examples include those dedicated to his friends, or created as homage, including such triptychs for Andre Malraux, Claude Monet and Henri Michaux. Such output by Zao is few and far between; many have already entered the collections of prominent museums. 10.03.83 currently on offer comes from an important Swiss private collection, entering in the market for the first time in decades. This work has also been included in many important books on Zao Wou-Ki.

Since its completion 30 years ago, 10.03.83 has been selected by international curators (in addition to Zao Wou-Ki himself) in twenty one prominent exhibitions at home and abroad, clearly confirming its importance within the artist’s oeuvre. 10.03.83 is an aggregate of Zao’s highest artistic achievement: its rich and self-assured artistic language dazzles the viewer, extolling praise of the highest order.