Lot 4
  • 4

ZAO WOU-KI | Temps Calme

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 EUR
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  • Zao Wou Ki
  • Temps Calme
  • signed, signed in Chinese and dated 57; signed and titled on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 54 x 65 cm; 21  1/4  x 25  9/16  in.
  • Executed in 1957.


Collection Raphaël Cherchève, Paris (acquired circa 1960)
Private Collection, France


Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Barcelone, 1978, p. 280, illustrated
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Barcelone, 1979, p. 280, illustrated
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Barcelone, 1986, p. 320, illustrated


The colours are fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration although the overall tonality is more vivid and contrasted in the original work. Upon close inspection, the corners present faint wear marks at the extremities, with the exception of the lower light corner. Minor drying cracks are located in two of the black areas in the center of the composition. There is an area of small stabilized cracks in the white area in the upper right quadrant. Under Ultra Violet Light inspection there is no evidence of restoration. The 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

Undeniably one of the most magical and enigmatic paintings ever made by Zao Wou-Ki, an artist unanimously considered as one of the most important painters of the 20th century, Temps Calme was created at a critical time of Zao Wou-Ki’s personal life. He had just separated from his wife Lan-Lan to whom he had been married for 16 years, and come back from a long trip around the world that brought him to the United States. There, he crossed the path of Edgard Varèse and I. M. Pei, whose family was close to his, and met famous gallerist Sam Kootz. The latter exhibited him five times before the closing of his gallery in 1967. He also presented him to Franz Kline, Conrad Marca-Relli, Adolph Gottlieb, William Baziotes and Hans Hoffman, who became close friends of the artist. Kept out of sight for half a century, Temps Calme is indicative of the major and fruitful shift taken by Zao Wou-Ki between 1953 and 1957, a change characterized by the use of “signs conceived as bases to break through the appearances” from figuration to abstraction, to quote the great art historian Jean Leymarie. Zao Wou-Ki did not draw these “invented” signs from calligraphy, as could have been expected. They were “an alphabet with specific rules and meaning, although they refer to more remote and mysterious sources”. They probably made reference to the “ancient inscriptions carved fifteen to ten centuries before our time on the divinatory bones and ritual bronzes of the Chang dynasty” and inspired Zao Wou-Ki the composition of Temps Calme. Although they are of striking beauty, the forms that make up this outstanding composition seem to come from the depths of time, a distant time and space that could unleash magical powers if we pronounced the right incantations.

We should also recall that it was in 1957, pivotal year in the evolution of Zao Wou-Ki’s unique pictorial vocabulary, that the artist met the actress Chan May-Kan, during his trip around the world. He married her and they came back to Paris together in 1958. The choice of Temps Calme, the title of the bewitching work we are presenting here, is certainly not a random in that regard. It probably refers to the -maybe fleeting yet newfound- happiness that gave a new creative impulse to the artist. For the first time, Zao Wou-Ki seemed to have penetrated the mysteries of the matter and revealed a composition torn between grandiloquence and modesty, magnificence and discretion, with graphic and kabalistic signs on one side and a prudish yet dark and dusky color palette on the other. Both contrasted and harmonious, Temps Calme brings us to an inner dimension that makes us better understand Zao Wou-Ki’s teaching: “People think that painting and writing consist in reproducing forms and likeness. No. The role of painting is to bring things out of chaos.

The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki. The work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné currently being prepared by Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen. It is accompagnied by a certificate of authenticity.