Lot 1001
  • 1001

Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)

16,000,000 - 24,000,000 HKD
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  • Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
  • Nature morte sur une table ronde
  • signed in Pinyin and Chinese; signed in Pinyin, titled, and dated 53 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
Two Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo labels affixed to the stretcher on the reverse


Private American Collection
Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo
Important Private Asian Collection


Fukuoka, Fukuoka Art Museum, Zao Wou-Ki: peintures, encres de Chine, 6 - 21 October, 1981, plate 2
Tokyo, Grand Art Gallery, Zao Wou-Ki: peintures, encres de Chine, 13 - 18 November, 1981, plate 2
Fukui, Fukui Prefectural Museum of Art, Zao Wou-Ki: peintures, encres de Chine, 27 February – 22 March, 1982, plate 2
Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art, Zao Wou-Ki: peintures, encres de Chine, 30 March – 9 May, 1982, plate 2
Kamakura, The Museum of Modern Art, Zao Wou-Ki: peintures, encres de Chine, 16 May – 20 June, 1982, plate 2 
Swiss, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Zao Wou-ki, 4 December 2015 - 12 June 2016


The work is overall in very good condition. There is no sign of retouching 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

From Nature morte sur une table ronde to Château - 07.52-05.06.55 – Zao Wou-Ki’s Leap from Representationalism to Abstractionism
In the early 1950s, Zao Wou-Ki embarked upon a series of travels across Europe. The new scenery and sights left a strong impression upon the artist, who would go on to depict the Notre-Dame in Paris, the Burgos Cathedral in Spain, and images from Venice with his paintbrush. In his rendering of landscapes, Zao Wou-Ki, along with other modern art pioneers, was in pursuit of a breakthrough that would transcend the current forms and aesthetic concepts of painting. Monet did this in his portrayal of haystacks at twilight by capturing the shifting colours under the light of the flickering sun. With his brush, Van Gogh captured the rhythm of nature, drawing upon his time in the countryside, amid the rivers and streams. Monet’s mastery in the realm of landscape painting resided in his use of colour, which led to the unfolding of the Impressionist movement. Van Gogh’s was in his wielding of emotion and feeling in his brushstrokes, a technique that set off the Expressionist movement. Zao Wou-Ki’s mastery lay in the realm of the line. His use of lines, often positioned within a haze of clouds and mist, suggested an otherworldly, spiritual realm, establishing a style of abstractionism that embodied the Eastern spirit. Amid the wave of abstractionism that swept the globe, Zao’s individual style positioned him upon a pedestal of his own.
Nature morte sur une table ronde
(Lot 1001), was completed in 1953 while Château - 07.52-05.06.55 (Lot 1002) was constructed between 1952-1955, the two pieces overlapping in time, yet dramatically different in style. These pieces are a testament to Zao Wou-Ki’s preoccupation with the linear form during the 1950s, and his ability to express it in different subjects and formal styles. The stylistic difference between the two paintings is a testament to Zao’s complete evolution from representationalism to abstractionism. Nature morte sur une table ronde is established upon yet evolves beyond the subject of still life objects. The arrangement does not deviate far from the conventions for this type of painting: a tabletop constructs a three-dimensional space, and further into the depth of the painting, individual objects are arranged atop the table, imbued with a powerful sense of narrative importance. This setup epitomizes Zao’s painting style in the early 1950s. The fruit and wine glasses are depicted with deep and contrasting colours, demonstrating their three-dimensional volume. Yet compared to the Western still lifes, such as Cezanne’s or Monet’s works, who emphasize the thickness and density of the colours and the substantial three-dimensionality of their objects, Zao’s still lifes rely more on the line, a sketching out of the objects’ outlines, doing away with the dimensionality of shadows, the objects present but seemingly elusive. In this way, the viewer’s eye is guided beyond the lines to the turns and undulations of the colours, giving rise to an astonishing visual experience of penetration, a feeling of ethereal clarity rarely observed in the medium of Western oil painting. Through the use of lines, the viewer’s gaze is led from the objective representation of the objects toward colour, and with the straight and curving lines, threaded together, the oil colour becomes light and diffuse, conveying a lithe and dynamic spirit that imbues the canvas with a graceful and clever atmosphere. The painting’s charm originates from the narrative power of its still life objects as well as the use of line and colour upon the canvas. Concealed within a still life painting, the artist has embedded his pursuit of the abstract form, hinting at the artist’s forthcoming absolute transition to abstractionism.