Lot 1025
  • 1025

Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)

18,000,000 - 22,000,000 HKD
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  • Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
  • 27.01.86
  • signed in Pinyin and Chinese; signed in Pinyin and dated 27.1.86 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Galerie Artcurial, Paris
Private Collection, Europe
Paris, Tajan, November 21, 2001, lot 93
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner 


Paris, Galerie Artcurial, Centre d’Art Plastique contemptorian, Zao Wou-Ki, 1955-1988, September- November, 1988, p.33
Japan, Tokyo, Ishibashi Foundation, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Zao Wou-Ki, 16 October, 2004- 16 January, 2005, pl.50, p.133


Michael Sullivan, Art and Artists of Twentieth-Century China, University of California Press, Berkeley, USA, 1996, pl.59
Michael Sullivan, Art and Artists of Twentieth-Century China, People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, Shanghai, China, 2013, pl.59
Bernard Noel, Zao Wou-Ki Grands formats- Au bord du visible, Cercle d’Art, Paris, France, 2000, pl.54


This work is overall in 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

 A Historic Masterwork Zao Wou-Ki’s 27.01.86

Zao Wou-Ki’s extensive travels around the world not only attracted the admiration of international museums and collectors but also inspired him creatively. His paintings of different periods document the evolution of his worldview and state of mind. Zao was active in Paris in the 1950’s and more broadly in Europe and the United States in the 60’s and 70’s, and in the 80’s, at the peak of his career, he embarked on his return to the East. In 1981, he mounted a solo exhibition at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris—his first at a public institution—which began a series of widely-acclaimed exhibitions in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Korea. Around this time, the artist also returned to China after a long absence, painting a mural for the Xiangshan Hotel in Beijing in 1982 and mounting a solo exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing and the Zhejiang Academy of Art (now China Academy of Art) in Hangzhou in 1983. Particularly notable was that in 1985 he taught short courses at the Zhejiang Academy of Art, his alma mater. Zao’s abstract paintings of the 80’s are marked by strong Chinese characteristics. In scale, brushwork, use of colour, and mood, 27.01.86 is representative of Zao Wou-ki in this crucial period of his life.

A Tireless Creative Journey

Zao Wou-ki’s abstract paintings constituted a live, ever-evolving world. From the poetic sensibilities of the Klee-esque period, to the mysteriousness of the Oracle Bone period, to the bold experimentation of the Mad Cursive period, Zao’s art reflected the richness of his knowledge and experience. After the 1970’s, he tended to create magnanimous, wide-open spaces and sublimate the forceful struggles of the past into Zen-like emptiness and nuance. In the 1980’s, Zao further developed this aesthetics of emptiness in paintings of harmonious dreamlands that also manifest lively colours and lines. The first impression that 27.01.86 gives is one of boundless energy. Already in his old age when he created this painting, Zao Wou-ki lets his brush roam freely on a monumental canvas, interweaving boundless ink lines into an absorbing, all-encompassing scene that evokes vines and dragons—a living, robust, complex network into which he transmits the spirit of heaven and earth and breathes life. The coral-red pigment, which takes up the majority of the composition, has been diluted to a high level of fluidity and transparency. Its free flow and ejection bring much visual interest and carry traditional Chinese auspicious connotations, evoking the endless cycle of life in the universe.

A constantly changing world of abstraction

Zao Wou-ki once said, “A painter must not only be proficient in the use of lines and colours, but also maintain a profound emotional sincerity. In a good painting, form and content are coextensive. The painter only expresses his or her inner emotions through lines and colours. The ‘world’ of the painting is personal and changes according to the creator’s emotions. It is constantly fresh because of change.” In 27.01.86, the energy of the entire composition is concentrated at the centre, which is unusual for Zao’s works from the 1980’s. This harmonious concentration of energy differs starkly from the emphasis on the tension between the canvas ground and colour in his works from the 60’s. According to the Daoist worldview, “the myriad things are beget from presence, and presence from nothingness.” Pursuing his aesthetics of emptiness characteristic of this period, in 27.01.86 Zao Wou-ki conveyed the feeling of “approaching the ultimate void, maintaining silence, being one with the myriad things to observe and reflect on them” articulated in the Daodejing. In 1988, he was commissioned by the Olympic Committee to create abstract works to promote the Olympic spirit. These works and 27.01.86 are mutually illuminating.

Western form, Eastern resonance

Zao Wou-ki’s emotionally expressive abstract painting originated in the romantic wave of French abstract art, and his penchant for monumental canvases was inspired by his exposure to the New York School during his travels in the United States. The use of ink lines and negative space and the appreciation for Buddhist and Daoist philosophy in 27.01.86, however, are rooted in the culture of his native China. The abstract world seen here, so richly suggestive of East Asian aesthetics, reflects the intellectual and spiritual influence of the ink medium, to which Zao returned in the 1970’s. On this the publisher He Zhengguang comments:


“Our worldview of simplicity and naturalness and Zen aesthetics, the rhythms and abstract movements of yin and yang, the endless vitality of nature—all these are the crystallisation of Eastern mentality and aesthetic character. They inform the aesthetic ideals of the Chinese people. The profound philosophy behind them is expressed in painting as the traditional aesthetic ideal of qiyun shengdong [‘spiritual resonance and lifelike’]. Zao Wou-ki and his works all manifest qiyun shengdong, which also summarises the highest goals of Chinese painting. Condescending Western abstract form and Eastern resonance of breath in his own emotions and thoughts, Zao Wou-ki has created a signature abstract style that is richly textured, culturally informed, and highly innovative—the symbol of his experience and wisdom.”

As one of the giants of the international art world, Zao Wou-ki responded to China’s artistic traditions directly in his works and successfully animated classical Chinese aesthetics with Western artistic form. After the creation of 27.01.86, he mounted a large-scale solo exhibition at Galerie Artcurial in Paris in 1988 and a major retrospective at the Bridgestone Museum of the Ishibashi Foundation in Tokyo in 2004, and was included in the hallmark publication Art and Artists of 20th Century China by Michael Sullivan, the renowned scholar of Chinese art at Oxford University. All this proves the historical and aesthetic value of Zao Wou-ki’s works, which are doubtlessly worthy of major museums. The appearance of 27.01.86 in Beijing is truly a precious opportunity for collectors and lovers of Chinese painting.