Lot 37
  • 37

Zao Wou-Ki

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 EUR
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  • Zao Wou-Ki
  • 19.03.62
  • signed and signed in Chinese; signed and dated 19.3.62 on the reverse

  • oil on canvas
  • 66,5 x 95 cm; 26 3/16 x 37 3/8 in.
  • Executed in 1962.


Laing Gallery, Toronto
Gerald Moris Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto (acquired from the above circa 1963)
Galerie Pascal de Sarthe, Hong Kong
Collection particulière, Hong Kong


The colours are fairly accurate in the catalogue illustration although the overall tonality is slightly lighter in the original work. The work is executed on its original canvas and is not relined. There are two small areas of drying hairline cracks, one located in the lower left quadrant, by the left edge, and the other on the black paint at the center of the composition. Under Ultra Violet light inspection, the edges of the canvas near the rims fluoresce, likely due to a former frame. This work is in very good condition.
"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

In 1962, fifteen years after his arrival in Paris, Zao Wou-Ki became one of the leading figures of the international art scene and one of the most celebrated representatives of the new School of Paris as well as of lyrical abstraction.

In the course of his many trips to the United States from the second half of the 1950s, the Sino-French artist was captivated by the unprecedented creative energy which emanated from the works of the painters he met in New York through the intermediary of Pierre Soulages and the latter’s American dealer – who would soon become his own: Sam Kootz. He quickly became friends with Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Adolph Gottlieb, William Baziotes and Hans Hofmann. Their painting appeared to him to be more instinctive, more direct than the painting of Europe at the same time. Illuminating and inspiring.

Upon his return to Paris, Zao Wou Ki decided to begin exploring new territories. At the crossroads between the training in traditional Chinese painting he received as an adolescent at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts and the teachings of his contemporaries close to Abstract Expressionism, the works he produced were now more assertive and emblematic of the artistic maturity within his reach. As he declared himself in his Autobiography published in 2008, it is clear “that these ten years, between 1960 and 1970 […] allowed [him] to give body to this long work […] accomplished since [his] arrival in France”.

The work 19.3.62 is thus an example of the height of his art. He has finally found the long sought after sense of balance between millenary and contemporary practises. His brushstrokes are accomplished and his palette is handled with mastery. His compositions now open up a space for an incomparable imaginary and atmospheric graphics, pulling the viewer into an intense and incredibly sensitive internal space. In this remarkable painting, kept for over forty years in a North American private collection, Zao Wou-ki allows himself to be submerged by a feeling of total freedom he certainly experienced for the first time and which became his sole guide when he moved at the end of 1961 to his studio on the rue du Moulin Vert, next to Giacometti’s studio, and planted with trees that recalled his native China. Here he had “a feeling  of having recreated a bit of my childhood”, everything invited him to paint, including “that Northern light, a bit grey, always the same”, which allows him “to see the intensity of each colour.” (Ibid.)