Christie's to Present Masterpieces from Zao Wou-Ki's "Hurricane" Period

We have previously introduced the top lot of Christie’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale- Zao Wou-Ki’s Triptych 1987-1988, an important work by the artist from the 1980s. While this masterpiece represents the success of Zao Wou-Ki in the 1980s, it was in the 1960s when he reached a new level in his techniques. The evening sale in Hong Kong will feature some of the most significant pieces from Zao Wou-Ki from the 60s.

Zao Wou-Ki’s Triptych 1987-1988

Zao Wou-Ki’s Untitled painted in 1948 shows significant difference from those created in 1960s

The first two top lots of the sale were introduced in our previous article Zao Wou-Ki’s ‘Triptych 1987-1988’ Could Fetch US$15m-20m at Christie’s Hong Kong. The third top lot– 17.01.66 by Zao Wou-Ki was created in the 1960s, which is often considered the golden era of his career. He had moved on from his Oracle-Bone style to reducing the number of colours in his work, transforming the bare variations of shades in black and white into a multi-layered palette of subtle hues.

Zao Wou-Ki’s 17.01.66

Estimated at HK$75m-80m (US$9.6m - 11.52m), 17.01.66 is a work which can sum up the first half of Zao Wou-Ki's artistic career. All the central features of his style can be found in the painting, in the synthesis of Chinese and Western styles and the traces of both ancient and modern elements. A source reveals that this painting will definitely be sold as it has third party guarantee.

Zao’s vigorous brushwork can be seen in the details of 17.01.66

Zao Wou-Ki with Ho Cheng-Kuang, publisher of Artist magazine and 17.01.66 in the background

Some artists call this period the Hurricane period of Zao Wou-Ki in reference to the wild, flowing style of cursive calligraphy. Take 17.01.66 as an example, the brushwork is grand, proud, and vigorous, moving both horizontally and vertically to convey strong motion and energy. This work was much loved by the artist himself during his lifetime. It is one of which he had retained in his personal collection for many years. In 1992, the work could still be seen hanging in the background of Zao’s living room in a photo taken with Ho Cheng-Kuang, publisher of Artist magazine.

Zao Wou-Ki’s 21.04.64

21.04.64 is another emblematic of Zao’s 1960s style. The painting, estimated at HK$28m-30m (US$3.6m - 4.9m), shows heavy charcoal-black brushstrokes against a bright red background. The upper part is traversed by a large horizontal black band while the lower area is dominated by sparse flying brushstrokes. Zao was in search for an absolute abstraction capable of expressing inner experience. He incorporated his knowledge of calligraphy, which he had acquired since his childhood, into his techniques.

Details of 21.04.64

Behind the web of interwoven splashes and lines, a sense of thriving pulsating energy hides beneath the surface. Strokes in oil pigments both collide and echo each other, full of visual agitation, creating a great impression of depth. The loosely applied coat of crimson red across the canvas reveal the beige-colored background in some areas, adding an extra layer of depth with very minimal means.

Zao Wou-Ki and his second wife May 

The 1960s were precisely the years of blood and fire in the life of Zao Wou-Ki. He was passionately in love with his second wife May whom he met in Hong Kong and at the same time had to deal with her growing mental illness. Zao talked about his life in the 1960s in his autobiography published in 1988, he said, "I spent ten years at full speed, the same at which I was driving a fast car." Zao's works in the 1960s capture not only bliss but also torment. 

Highlighted lots- Works of Zao Wou-Ki

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). Triptych 1987-1988

Created in: 1987 - 1988
Size: 200 x 486cm

  • European private collection (acquired directly from the artist)
  • Estimate: HK$120,000,000 - 150,000,000 (US$15,000,000-20,000,000)

Zao Wou-Ki (1923 - 2013). 17.01.66

Created in: 1966
Size: 146 x 114 cm

  • Collection of the Artist
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner
  • This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki, dated 25 June 2012. This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonne prepared by Francoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki).

Estimate: HK$75,000,000 - HK$90,000,000 (US$9,601,448 - US$11,521,738)

Zao Wou-Ki (1923 - 2013). 21.04.64

Created in: 1964
Size: 80.5 x 130 cm

  • Galerie de France, Paris, France
  • Collection of Mr Charles A. Wyman, New York, USA (acquired from the above in 1966)
  • Thence by descent from the above to the present owner 
  • This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonne prepared by Francoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki

Estimate: HK$28,000,000 - HK$38,000,000 (US$3,584,540 - US$4,864,734)

Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Sale date: 25 May 2019