Lot 1
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Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)

800,000 - 1,200,000 HKD
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  • Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
  • Sans titre
  • oil on canvas
signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, inscribed VIII and dated 51 on the reverse


Private Collection, USA
Christie's, Hong Kong, 30 November, 2009, lot 1307
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


This work is in very good condition. There is evidence of very light undulation in the centre of the work. There is no evidence of restoration under UV.
"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

Sans titre by Zao Wou-ki

"I have always wanted to take what is most important, and understand the painter's intention. I have studied how lines and dots make up a painting amidst the complexity... I have painted scenery, buildings and nature; people and animals. They are not subjects, but elements that make up the universe. They are a part of it."
- Zao Wou-Ki

Sans titre, completed in 1951, is a composition among greenery. The colours are mottled and rugged. The painting reflects historical Shang and Zhou dynasty bronzes. It abandons the one-point perspective of the West, and emphasises the whole and a sense of space. The scenery is juxtaposed. The houses, paths, trees and animals overlap. The fence that encloses them appears to the viewer like a country manor, arousing curiosity. At the top left of the painting is a person holding a hoe. It is like the image of the ancient Han dynasty brick carvings in Zao Wou-Ki's academic masterpiece Han Rubbings. The person looks like a peasant as well as a guide to the painting, inviting viewers in.

During this period, Zao Wou-Ki was inspired by Paul Klee. His main mode of expression was light and agile lines and symbols, much like embroidery. His main objective was not to show what things looked like. The lines and symbols were elements for the painting's spacial organisation, and a poetic guide. In the end, "the main and the supporting were forgotten".

Pulsating Reveries, The Willows Retreat into The Shade and The Flowers Emerge into The Lime Light

Henri Michaux was a lifelong friend of Zao Wou-Ki. He was the person most able to appreciate the mystery of Zao's paintings.  In the early 1950s, this poet laureate understood the pure beauty and pursuit of "space" in Zao's work. He said,  "Paths wind through mountain peaks. The willows retreat into the shade and the flowers emerge into the lime light. Lines wander at will. They depict a pulsating reverie. This is what Zao Wou-Ki likes.  Suddenly, the painting is full of the festive atmosphere of a Chinese township or the countryside. It is sometimes jubilatory, sometimes tactful and submissive but always in a group of symbols."

Zao Wou-Ki visited Italy while he was working on this painting. The scenery in Tuscany was similar to south China, and made him think of home. At the same time, he gained narrative inspiration from the wall paintings in the ancient churches. In Santitre he used caralier perspective to create space, so the viewer can appreciate the painting from any angle. Chinese and foreign landscapes are similar in character. The viewer is reminded of the poetic landscape in Tao Yuanming's Returning To My Farm in the Field. The viewer is invited to join Zao as a ploughman, and cultivate land in a new world.