Zao Wou-ki’s Abstract Work Painted on His Birthday To Lead Hong Kong Modern Art Sale, Estimated at US$12.9m

The art market heat surrounding Zao Wou-ki has not cooled down. At least that is Sotheby’s hope in the upcoming Modern Art Sale - with a total of eight of his paintings, including one that was painted on his birthday, going to the auction block on the third day of Sotheby's Hong Kong Spring Sales Week.

This season will also see a diverse selection of works by established Southeast Asian artists, such as Le Pho, Mai Trung Thu and Vu Cao Dam.

Some of the highlights include: 


Lot 1021 | Zao Wou-ki (1920 - 2013), 13.02.62

Oil on canvas signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated 13.2.62 on the reverse 

Painted in 1962

Dimensions: 129.5 x 161.5 cm


  • Laing Gallery, Toronto
  • Private Collection (Sold: Phillips, London, December 5, 1990, Lot 61)
  • Private Collection, Paris
  • Important Private European Collection (Acquired directly from the above in 2003)

Estimate: HK$100,000,000 - 150,000,000


In Zao Wou-ki’s “Hurricane Period,” during the 1960s, the apex of his career, the artist almost exclusively titled his works after their dates of creation. The present star lot, 13.02.62, was painted on Zao’s birthday, adding to the significance of the painting. Among the recorded extant works by the artist, very few were created on the same day.

On top of the noticeable central axis running across the canvas - one of the most recognizable characteristics of Zao’s collection completed during his “Hurricane Period,” the present masterpiece also displays traces from his Oracle Bone Period in the 1950s, where the spirituality of ancient Chinese inscriptions shines through. 

Closer look at 13.02.62


In 13.02.62, the dashing ink-black brushstrokes extend outward from the center of the composition, into the palette of bright red and silvery white. The intensity of his creative prowess was also met by his encounter with Chan May-kan, who later became his second wife and the love of his life. 

“[She has] the glamor of a movie star, the maturity beyond her young age, and despite having lived through difficult times still maintains the innocence of youth. She knows my painting.” Zao once said. 

Lot 1020 | Chu Teh-chun, Harmonie hivernale

Oil on canvas (triptych)

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin, dated 86; signed in Chinese and Pinyin, titled in French, dated 1986 on the reverse 

Dimension: 193 x 384.7 cm

Provenance: Important Private European Collection

Estimate: HK$80,000,000 - 120,000,000


Chu Teh-chun’s “Snow Scene” series began in 1985. According to Sotheby’s there are only eight groups of large format polyptychs in the series, with Harmonie hivernale being one of the only three triptychs. Inspired by the artist’s journey through a snowstorm in the Alps, the present work showcases his mastery of Eastern and Western artistic approaches that conjure enthralling images of wintery skies with heavy snow. 

The present work is also the first triptych depicting a snow scene to appear at auction, carrying a presale estimate of HK$80m to HK$120m (US$10.3m - 15.48m). 

Raised in Anhui province, China, and surrounded by intriguing mountainscapes, Chu’s expressive oeuvre often elicits a contrasting sense of controlled spontaneity that encompasses his passions for Chinese calligraphy and Western classical music.


Harmonie hivernale at Chu Teh-chun’s solo exhibition in France, 1986

Closer look at Harmonie hivernale

Lot 1033 | Zao Wou-ki, Untitled (Golden City)

Oil on canvas

Painted in 1951 to 1952

Dimensions: 88.7 x 115.7 cm


  • Cadby Birch Gallery, New York 
  • Collection of Pauline Trigère 
  • Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei 
  • Important Private Asian Collection

Estimate: HK$42,000,000 - 60,000,000


Another Zao Wou-ki painting presented in the sale, Untitled (Golden City), painted during 1951 to 1952, was inspired by his trip to Venice, in search of new horizons and inspiration. The artist once mentioned that the view of Tuscany in Italy reminded him of the abundance of poetic landscapes of Jiangnan in China. 

The present work, emerging from a blue haze, captures a building that resembles the Basilica di San Marco at the top of the painting, with a typical Venetian square in the middle. 

Closer look at Untitled (Golden City)

Lot 1034 | Pierre Soulages, Peinture 125 x 202 cm, 30 Octobre 1958

Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 125 x 202 cm


  • Kootz Gallery, New York 
  • Collection of Edward A. Bragaline, New York (Acquired from the above on March 3, 1959 and sold: Christie's, London, July 1, 1999, Lot 612)
  • Private Collection (Sold: Ravenel, Taipei, June 18, 2000, Lot 6) 
  • Acquired directly from the above by the former owner (Sold: Sotheby's, London, October 17, 2014, Lot 29) 
  • Acquired directly from the above by the present important private collector 

Estimate: HK$38,000,000 - 58,000,000


French artist Pierre Soulages became close friends with Zao Wou-ki in the 1950s. Represented by the same art dealers, the two contemporary art masters witnessed the Abstract Expressionist movement in the US, and the Art Informel in Europe. 

Soulages’ creations are said to be some of the most influential forces behind Zao’s creative output during his “Hurricane Period.” There are less than ten 1950s artworks of similar scale across the artist’s entire oeuvre, with the present work being the only one that features the striking gold tone, interrupted by his signature thick black brushstrokes. 


Zao Wou-ki and Pierre Soulages in Hawaii, 1958

Lot 1026 | Mai Trung Thu, Portrait de Mademoiselle Phuong

Oil on canvas

Signed and dated 1930

Dimensions: 135.5 by 80 cm


  • Purchased at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale, Paris in 1931 by the original French Private Collector
  • Collection of Madame Dothi Dumonteil

Estimate: HK$7,500,000 - 9,300,000


Lot 1028 | Mai Trung Thu, Lady Writing a Poem

Ink and gouache on silk

Signed, stamped with the artist's seal and dated in Chinese 1943

Dimensions: 73 x 50.5 cm


  • Collection of Jean-François Apesteguy
  • Collection of Madame Dothi Dumonteil

Estimate: HK$3,200,000 - 4,000,000


Lot 1014 | Le Pho, Two Women Overlooking a Goldfish Pond 

Ink and gouache on silk

Dimensions: 69 by 53 cm


  • Acquired in circa 1950s by the previous owner
  • Thence by descent to the present private French Collector

Estimate: HK$2,800,000 - 3,800,000

Lot 1027 | Vu Cao Dam, Conversation

Ink and gouache on silk

Dimensions: 44.5 x 53.5 cm


  • Collection of Jean-François Apesteguy
  • Collection of Madame Dothi Dumonteil

Estimate: HK$2,000,000 - 3,000,000

Auction Details:

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Sale: Beyond Legends: Modern Art Evening Sale

Date: April 18, 2021 | 6:30pm

Venue: Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery | 5/F One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong