Zao Wou-Ki’s ‘Triptych 1987-1988’ Could Fetch US$15m-20m at Christie’s Hong Kong

Christie’s announced a rare painting by Zao Wou-Ki will be offered in the upcoming Hong Kong spring. Yet, the auction house didn’t give any details except a picture of Michelangelo's masterpiece The Creation of Adam. The subtle clue left many art collectors and connoisseurs puzzled.

Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam

Earlier this week, the auction house revealed the long-awaited painting in Hong Kong. Triptych 1987-1988, an important work by the artist from the 1980s, will go on sale at Christie’s auction on 25 May with an estimate of HK$120m-150m (US$15m-20m). It is the first time the work is presented on the market.

Triptych 1987-1988

Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam and Zao Wou-Ki's Triptych 1987-1988

Triptych 1987-1988

Abstract master Zao Wou-Ki

Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki was born in Beijing and later moved to Paris, where he became friends with Miró and Giacometti, and bridged the divide between Eastern and Western traditions. The large-scale Triptych 1987-1988 was created out of the synthesis between Zao’s knowledge of Chinese painting technique and his Western sensitivity to colour and light. Influenced by Henri Matisse’s series of Open Window paintings and Claude Monet’s Nympheas, the work depicts a transcendent abstract space.

A closeup of Triptych 1987-1988

A closeup of Triptych 1987-1988

Zao’s reverence to the two masters is also reflected in two of his works from the same period: Hommage à Matisse from 1986 and Hommage à Claude Monet from 1991. Looking at the composition and the colours used in Triptych 1987-1988, it may also remind you of Hommage à mon ami Henri Michaux created by the artist in 1999-2000.

Hommage à Matisse

Hommage à Claude Monet

Hommage à mon ami Henri Michaux

The present painting is one of only 20 large triptychs created by Zao Wou-Ki that are known to exist. Of all 20 large triptychs, three are now in museum collections and seven are in the Zao Wou-Ki Foundation, leaving only ten in private collection. The present one was acquired directly from the artist before it came into the current collection.

Measuring 200 x 486cm, Triptych 1987-1988 is the second largest painting by Zao to ever be offered on the market. The largest work ever by Zao, Juin-Octobre 1985, was sold for a record-shattering price at HK$510m (US$65m) in Hong Kong last year.


A closeup of 02.01.65

A closeup of 02.01.65

Another Zao’s masterpiece, 02.01.65, will also lead Christie’s Hong Kong spring sale this May. The painting is an example of Zao’s “Hurricane Period” where he integrated the energy and movement of Chinese cursive calligraphy with Western abstract expressionism after his trip with Pierre Soulages to New York, Japan and Hong Kong. This 1965 painting builds upon several powerful works created in the prior year by embodying even greater complexity and movement.

The painting was previously offered at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2010 and sold for HK$20.82m, surpassing its estimate of HK$8m-12m. The auction house didn’t reveal the estimate for this time.

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 (1920-2013). 02.01.65

Created in: 1965
Size: 162 x 200cm

  • Provenance (consolidated by The Value):
  • Acquired directly from the artist by the father of the present owner
  • Property from a private French collection
  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 29 May 2010, lot 1006 (HK$20,820,000)

Estimate on request

Auction details

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