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25.09.60
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25.09.60
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25.09.60

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About the object

Kootz Gallery, New York label affixed to the stretcher on the reverse\nSigned in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 25.9.60 on the reverse\nA magnificient classic from 1960sZao Wou-Ki 25.09.60\nThe years between 1957 and 1960 marked a critical turning point in the creative journey of Zao Wou-Ki. In those years, the artist’s style underwent a seismic shift, which, by the 1960s, had catapulted his career and established him as the first Chinese master of Western art to command international acclaim.\nIn 1957, Zao held his first solo exhibit at the Galerie de France in Paris. The show was met with unprecedented, positive response, which solidly grounded the artist as an important figure in the Parisian art scene. During this time, however, Zao was dealing with the traumatic emotional aftermath of a divorce from his first wife Xie Jinglan (better known as Lalan), so in pursuit of equanimity in his life and a stylistic breakthrough in his work, Zao left Paris and set for New York in September of that year, following the completion of his exhibition. Arriving in a postwar America, he met many of the important New York School Abstract Expressionist artists, such as Franz Kline, Conrad Marca-Relli, and Philip Guston. The rich vitality and fresh progressive style of abstract expressionism heavily influenced Zao, who began to stride towards large-scale creations.\nIn 1958, during a short interlude in Hong Kong, Zao met actress May Zao, who would become his second wife. After returning to France, he built a private studio in the Montparnasse neighborhood. The studio was large and spacious, and designed such that the studio’s interior was completely isolated from the external world. With natural light shining in from the roof, the studio provided an ideal environment for the artist to work on his large-scale paintings with abandon, as well as to indulge in his thoughts and meditations. Nourished by the success of his career and his romance, Zao created a series of thrilling, classic paintings in this studio. The painting 25.09.60 (Lot 1015), currently on auction, is one of the brilliant masterpieces completed during this time.\n1960 was an important year, with the launch of Zao’s second solo exhibition, held at Kootz Gallery in New York. Completed in 1960, 25.09.60 was purchased by an American collector from Kootz Gallery that same year, and has remained in the owner’s collection until today. Completely unlike the artist’s work in the 1950s, the painting clearly displays the artist’s formal commitment to pure abstraction. Gone are the ideographic script and symbols from Zao’s oracle bone period. Instead, what appears before the viewer is bold, courageous application of color as well as a free and boundless composition. The center of the canvas is the focal point of 25.09.60, the colors black and red are applied with quick brushstrokes, layered to create a three-dimensional space that evokes the image of lightning flashing upon barren land. The dry and short brushstrokes gently tremble, the grand, horizontal sweeps and the fluid, diagonal lines display the artist’s masterful technique and expression of vitality. This virtuosity is a reminder of Zao’s early education in Chinese calligraphy, from which he learned to command the brush with strength and vigor. The expansive swaths of earth colors and whites evoke the image of mountains encircled by a clear, limpid lake. As this scene interacts with the band of dark black above it, a dramatic contrast emerges.\nZao once said the following about the work he was producing in the 1960s: “In the last few years, I’ve been able to paint with a free hand, to paint as I please; issues of technique no longer exist, I just follow my mood. Large-scale paintings require me to wrestle with space. Not only do I need to fill it, I must give it life, and throw myself, immerse myself into the canvas. I want to display dynamism: maybe it’s mercurial sentimentality, or maybe it’s a flash of intensity. I want to use the many registers of vibration that occur between color contrasts and varying tones of the same color to incite the canvas to move and leap…” In 25.09.60, the artist cleverly emphasizes the visual effect at the center of the large canvas. With skilled manipulation of color tones, the artist blends turpentine into the oil paint, bestowing a sense of motion onto the canvas that resembles the flowing movement of Chinese ink-wash paintings. What results is a rhythmic space that is rich with courage and strength. Having admired the Song dynasty landscape paintings since his youth, Zao pays homage to his heritage in this painting by dividing the composition evenly into three sections, the center imposing and threatening, while the spaces at the top and bottom are filled simply with colors of light brown and amber, creating an effect of soaring and pure boundlessness. The composition is at once strong and supple, embodying the sparse and still undercurrent of Chinese literati paintings. The viewer needs not speculate upon what the artist is trying to convey. We naturally experience it, the artist’s pursuit of “that which we cannot see: the different dimensions of life, the wind, the life of shapes, and the origins and fusion of colors.”\nCreated six years apart, Zao’s 25.09.60 and An Invitation to Rusticate, a painting by Zao’s good friend and Chinese guohua master Zhang Daqian, despite using different Eastern and Western materials, are both conceptual expressions of abstract landscapes. In Chang’s An Invitation to Rusticate, we see the form and shape of the material world. Zao’s 25.09.60, in contrast, communicates a bold and fearless energy, oil pigments layered and overlapping, blending and flowing into each other, enticing the imagination to gallop freely. Of the artists Zao encountered in America, Franz Kline, a leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement, was heavily influenced by Chinese calligraphy, becoming in expert at using the colors of black, white, and gray. In Kline’s large-scale painting Shenandoah, wide and rough bands of paint linger daringly upon the canvas. It’s easy to imagine that, in the initial encounter between Zao and Kline, the Chinese artist must have also been inspired by the dramatic dynamism of action painting, a style he later adopted and infused into his own work after returning to France.\nAfter 1959, Zao stopped naming his works, giving each painting its own living entity, with a birth date. The artist no longer needed to label his works with a subject, breaking free from the limits of symbolism, and simply expressing through oil colors his pure and authentic internal state as well as his experience of the external world. As Song dynasty artist Guo Xi once said, “When a painting can evoke its world in the viewer’s heart, creating a reality, that painting is indeed marvelous.” Zao fully utilizes his control of Western oil colors, metamorphosing his feelings and spirit onto the canvas as shapes and colors. Upon this exquisite composition, a sense of harmony and symbiotic balance is created in the intense contrast between the void and the solid. The electricity and radiance that sparks from the rendezvous between Eastern and Western art is fully manifested in this painting. 25.09.60 has been perfectly preserved in the United States for over fifty years. Marking its first appearance at auction with Sotheby’s, this painting will undoubtedly be the object of competition among collectors of Zao Wou-Ki.
HK
HK
HK

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Wou-Ki Zao

condition

This work is in overall good condition. There is some stable craquelure across the central part of the painting, predominantly in an area towards the right edge. There is another drying crack about 10 cm in length near the right edge, located 40 cm up from the bottom. One can see slight undulation across the canvas. Under UV, there is a 10 cm-long retouching along the lower left edge and another one 3 cm in length at the upper right corner. "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. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

dimensions

130 by 162 cm.;   51 1/8  by 63 3/4  in.

provenance

Kootz Gallery, New York Acquired by the present owner from the above circa 1962

signedDate

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 25.9.60 on the reverse

consignmentDesignation

Property from a Private American Collection

creator_nationality_dates

1920-2013


*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.


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