Lot 1004
  • 1004

Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)

20,000,000 - 28,000,000 HKD
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  • Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji)
  • 17.07.67
  • signed in Pinyin and Chinese, signed in Pinyin and dated 67 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
Pascal de Sarthe, Arizona, Gallery de France, Paris, Frank Perls, California, San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco and Galerie de Montréal, Montréal labels affixed to the stretcher on the reverse


Galerie de France, Paris
Private Canadian Collection
Important Private Asian Collection


California, Frank Perls Art Dealer, Zao Wou-ki, 1968, plate 12, p. 9
San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art, Paintings of Zao Wou-ki, 1968


Zao Wou-Ki, Yves Bonnefoy & Gérard de Cortanze, La Différence/ Enrico Navarra Edition, Paris, 1998, p. 143


The work is overall in very good condition except three pinpoint paint losses which are only visible under very close inspection on the centre of the painting. 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

The Boundlessness of Space within an Evolving Cosmo
In the 1960s, Zao Wou-ki entered into yet another new creative territory, expanding his artistic exploration further and wider than ever. Simultaneously building upon Eastern landscape painting traditions as well as Western modern abstractionism, he drew inspirations from the aesthetic visions from both worlds. He focused his ideas on the expression of space, on how to create a boundless domain for the mind from a canvas of a finite size, how to express the spirit of nature and the universe, how to unlock the independent expressive power of colours and lines. Chinese art looks to the spirit of nature, while unlocking the expressive power of colours and lines is a core vision in modernism in the West. His art touches on both aspects, fusing together these distinctly different aesthetic pursuits with his abstract paintings. It was a breakthrough achievement in the 1960s, and a perfect as well as historically significant example of how Chinese and Western aesthetic ideas interact throughout the years.
Formless Vitality
17.07.67 (Lot 1004) was completed in 1967, in the middle of the creative journey described above. Its large scale reveals more completely the artist’s achievements, his creative ideas and the unique spatial format he presented. 17.07.67 subtly reaches out to the principles of spatial construction in Chinese paintings, first dividing the canvas into the sky and the ground, before laying out the lines and brushstrokes in the middle to establish the intent and vision of the piece. Some of the lines fuse together, some break apart, some vibrate and others overlap with each other, with the expressive freedom and powerful presence akin to wild cursive scripts in Chinese calligraphy. The lines, colours and composition do not simply imitate the external appearance of the sky, the ground and the mountains. Instead, they portray wind, air, clouds and fog in Chinese landscape paintings. Its sense of movement, vitality and spatial construction evokes within the viewer the grand and boundless thoughts of nature and life.
Testament of an Era
The origin of 17.07.67 was greatly insightful. One year after it was completed, 17.07.67 was exhibited in a private collection exhibition in America, followed by a solo exhibition in the San Francisco Museum of Art. In the 1960s' America, abstractionist art reached a peak, at which ideas, creative outputs and discussions abounded. In particular, the Museum was a major institution for abstract expressionism, and its collection included works by representative figures in abstract expressionism such as Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko. A contemporary of these artists, Zao was invited to exhibit his 17.07.67 in America, showing that his abstract art already had a place in the art scene at the time. It was a dialogue between his unique format and his contemporaries. Critics also held the same view. The Kootz Gallery, a key American promotor of Picasso, collaborated with Zao back in the 1950s and introduced his work to the American collectors. In 1958, San Francisco Museum of Art first acquired Zao’s works. It later hosted a solo exhibition of his abstract art in 1968. 17.07.67 was among the pieces selected for the exhibition, and serves as a testament of an era as well as the conversation between Zao Wou-ki’s art and Western abstractionist art of the same period.