Lot 1021
  • 1021

Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 HKD
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  • Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
  • 27.05.61
  • signed in Pinyin and Chinese; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 27.5.61 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Kootz Gallery, New York
Important Private American Collection


Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Edicions Poligrafa, Barcelona, 1978, pl.88, p.138
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Heir et Demain, Paris, 1978, pl.88, p.138
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Edicions Poligrafa, Barcelona, 1979, pl.88, p.138
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 1979, pl.88, p.138
Jean Leymarie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Circle d’Art, Paris, 1986, pl.88, p.138
Daniel Abadie, ed., Zao Wou-Ki, Edicions Poligrafa, Barcelona, 1989, pl.22


This work is in overall very good condition. There is no sign of restoration under UV examination.
"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

Fresh, Sophisticated and touching
Zao Wou-Ki, "27.05.61"

"Zao Wou-Ki was a world-famous Chinese artist who blended together elements from both Eastern and Western cultures, using his knowledge of Chinese painting techniques and his experiences in the West to express what he wished to convey: an imagined space, a lyrical world, and harmony." 
Director of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Huang Tsai-Lang

In 1958, Zao Wou-Ki quietly set aside his past achievements with the concrete form, and tried to overcome the concrete images and symbols he had created in his earlier works. He challenged himself to represent inner abstract emotions and his observations on the world solely through the use of colour and lines, and exploring how to depict that which the eye does not see but that does indeed exist, such as life force, the wind, motion, and the internal vitality of concrete objects once stripped of their physical form. His technique is influenced by traditional Chinese oil painting and calligraphy, with the collision between Chinese freehand and Western abstract painting's use of colour giving rise to his own unique artistic vocabulary. His creativity thus entered into a new phase, and it was against this backdrop that his 1961 painting, entitled 27.05.61, was created.

Empty Clouds Full of Meaning

In 27.05.61, Zao specifically chose to use grey as the primary colour. Through his brush strokes and subtle changes in colour he transforms the background into a curl of smoke, as though the entire painting is shrouded in clouds, and creating a frame for the painting in the mists beyond. This treatment is rich in Oriental charm and, like in traditional Chinese ink paintings, presents an unrealistic description of space. In Bada Shanren's piece, Duck, the background is kept sparse and simple with pale coloured ink to depict the water seamlessly. Comparing this to Zao's painting is an interesting juxtaposition. Black, brown and white lines emerge from the centre of 27.05.61, the artist using the tip of a fine brush to sketch delicate, agile lines. They intersect, cover up, run into and scurry around each other like water gushing from a spring. As the brush moves in different directions it plays out the rhythm of the beating heart of life and, like a mountain ridge, flowing water, or an ancient river, gives birth to infinite possibilities. The work brings to mind the classic song, By The Water's Edge, with lyrics such as, "The grass is flourishing, The mist is boundless, There's a beautiful woman, By the water's edge, The grass is luxuriant, The mist is shapeless, There's a beautiful woman, Living beside the water..." Here, Zao has created an open space where we are free to stroll and sing, capturing our imagination and transporting us inside the painting.

Honorary Professor of the Académie des Beaux-Arts Georges Duby said, "Zao Wou-Ki retains the unique and fundamental style of Western art: unconscious colour expression invoking the principles of Chinese aesthetics. He uses subdued tones and undefined, changing colours on faded backgrounds to open up a vast space without borders... Like an iridescent mist floating over a quietly brooding mountain before dissipating to emptiness, it isn't blank; it represents life in all its mystery, uncertainty and dynamism." 27.05.61 encapsulates this unique aesthetic. The piece has previously featured in many of Zao's key collections, and over the past few decades has been perfectly preserved by a private American collector. This is the first time the painting has been up for auction, and is an excellent opportunity for collectors everywhere.