Lot 147
  • 147

ZAO WOU-KI | Untitled

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Zao Wou Ki
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 66; dedicated on the reverse
  • watercolour on paper
  • 46.7 by 64.2 cm. 18 3/8 by 25 1/4 in.


A gift from the artist to the present owner

Catalogue Note

Zao Wou-ki’s Untitled and Untitled are masterworks from the esteemed collection of the late Walter Koschatzky, a dear friend of the artist and former director of the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Austria. Koschatzky and Zao’s friendship had a significant impact on the artist’s practice as Koschatzky was one of the first to exhibit Zao’s work in Europe. Although painted over different decades, Landscape and Untitled share dramatic similarities and reveal Zao’s profound artistic evolution. Within a decade, the artist’s practice moves from figurative naturalism to lyrical abstraction. A rare and crucial early work by the Chinese master, Untitled from 1950 offers a unique glimpse into Zao’s earliest artistic style. In this work, we encounter a rich palette of ochre, red and grey combined with a wealth of symbolism. Here Zao’s modulation of colour, through its contrasts and harmonies, creates a form of spiritual fulfilment for the viewer. Landscapes have for centuries been the most important genre in Chinese art offering sceneries of high mountains, forests and lands as its constant theme, while oil painting was the traditional composite applied by European artists in the 20th century. Surging through the centre of the landscape are sweeping brushstrokes of warm orange pinks and blue greens, evoking scenes of tumbling mountainside streams. Untitled is a true homage to Zao’s memories of China and simultaneously a key indicator of Western art influence on his art. During an exhibition in Paris in 1964, the artist remarked: ‘’Everybody is tied up by one tradition, I am by two’’ (Exh. Cat., Madrid, Galerie Thessa Herold, Zao Wou-ki, 1998, p. 138). The end of Zao's first marriage in 1957 was to provoke a huge change in his style; he left Paris for an extended journey that took him through America, Hawaii, Japan and Hong Kong, finally returning to Paris in 1959. This experience was more than a mental release however. It afforded him the opportunity to encounter the new postwar movements in art, to widen his international scope, and to establish his subsequent creative position. During this period, he also met Chan May-Kan, his second wife and love of his life. These experiences removed all mental barriers, releasing the pent-up energy into a torrent of creativity. In France, Zao forged strong relationships with many artists and creatives among which were the poet Henri Michaux and artists such as Vieira da Silva, Jean Dubuffet, Giacometti, Sam Francis as well as Jean-Paul Riopelle who he became very close to. 

Zao saw Paris as an opportunity to conquer the full freedom of painting beyond the unchanging principles and traditionalist methods he learned in Hangzhou. Prior to Zao Wou-ki’s move to Paris, the artist studied at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts in China. There, he learned the techniques of traditional Chinese art, as well as western academic style of painting. In 1950, in the same year the painting was made, Zao Wou-ki travelled across France, up to the French alps, where the artist could not help but paint its impetuous mountains, rivers and churches whose sceneries reminded him of the ones he had left behind in China. 

Untitled, from 1966, is indicative of Zao’s break from figuration and embrace of abstraction. By the early 1960s, the artist adopted new rhythms, pictorial textures and modulation of colours. The composition of Untitled is actively poetic, Zao’s delicate overlapping of different warm and bright tones of blue and purple create a dynamic element to the work. During that decade the artist eschewed fine, round brushes in favour of flattened, rectangular ones, and he also favoured ink and watercolour over oil paint. This mutation is reflective of the long international journey he took in the 1960s where he travelled to numerous cities in Europe, Mexico and America. While in New-York, Zao Wou-ki’s encounter with abstract artists such as Jackson Pollock, profoundly influenced his development as a painter. However, in contrast to action painting and its spontaneous act of randomly splattering, splashing and dripping paint, Zao's painterly abstraction was lyrical and delicate, evincing the traditional training and calligraphy studies he underwent in his youth in China. His brushtrokes, loose and supple, appear to be thoroughly manipulated from the wrist.