Zao Wou-Ki’s masterwork from Hurricane Period estimated at US$8.2m to sparkle in HK

On 7 October, Sotheby’s Hong Kong will present blockbuster paintings from East-West Masters in the Modern Evening Sale.

In March 2019, Chinese painter Zao Wou-Ki's 15.02.65 was featured at Sotheby's Hong Kong, and fetched HK$102 million (around US$12.9 million) dollars with buyer’s premium. It maintained the appetite for Zao's artworks in the Asian modern art market. After three years, this masterpiece tops the upcoming sale and is estimated between HK$65 and 100 million (around US$8.2 to 12.7 million) dollars.

Alongside this work, Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise a la galette des rois (Seated woman with a king cake) and Pierre Soulages’ Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 3 decembre 1956 will also be offered.

Lot 1041 | Zao Wou-Ki | 15.02.65, Oil on canvas

Created in 1965
97 x 195 cm

  • Kootz Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above)
  • Sotheby's, London, 18 October 1990, Lot 57 (consigned by the above)
  • Private Asian Collection
  • Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 31 March 2019, Lot 1029 (consigned by the above, Sold: HK$102,298,000)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$65,000,000 – 100,000,000

Swift, surging, and scribbled ink lines rush into the painting from the left and right, converging and colliding in the centre. Bright yellow tones, like golden beams, illuminate a work exploding with energy. Through the wild brushwork in this present work, viewers can envision the artist in the prime of his life standing in front of this massive no. 120 canvas with paintbrush in hand – poised to begin wrestling with the painting.

This piece is typical of the works that Zao made during his collaboration with New York’s Kootz Gallery in the 1960s; it was also the most important painting in his 1965 solo show at the gallery. Kootz Gallery, which seldom published catalogues, chose this work as the focal point for this exhibition’s promotional materials and printed a leaflet. This indicated how much American art dealer, Samuel Kootz, appreciated Zao and his work, as well as his importance in the international art world.

After he arrived in New York, the artist discovered that the American cultural context was entirely different from the long histories of China and France. During the post-war period, New York had become the world’s creative centre and leader of the avant-garde, and Abstract Expressionism condensed the unrestrained, bold, and innovative spirit of American culture. Deeply inspired by this spirit, Zao approached Eastern culture in a new way and changed his painting style. This change in 1959 inspired the beginning of Zao’s Hurricane Period, which lasted until 1972, and was recognised as one of his creative peaks.

Zao Wou-Ki 

15.02.65 exhibited at Kurtz Gallery, New York, in 1965

In 2019, Zao's 15.02.65 was hammered at HK$88 million dollars at Sotheby's Hong Kong

Although the market for Zao’s works declined after the pandemic began, it quickly rebounded. In May 2022, 29.09.64 fetched HK$278 million (around US$35.5 million) dollars at Christie's Hong Kong – which set the auction record for a single painting by the artist:

  • Zao’s Juin-Octobre 1985 | 280 x 1,000 cmSotheby's Hong Kong, 2018 | Sold: HK$510,371,000 (World auction record for an Asian oil painting)
  • Zao’s 29.09.64 | 230 x 345 cmChristie's Hong Kong, 2022 | Sold: HK$278,000,000 (Auction record for a single painting by the artist)

In 2019, 15.02.65 garnered HK$102 million dollars at Sotheby's Hong Kong. Three years later, in 2022, this chef-d’oeuvre will be offered at the same auction site once again.

Whether it will be sold at a monumental price remains to be seen.

Zao's Juin-Octobre 1985|Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2018 | Sold for record-breaking HK$510 million (around US$65 million) dollars 

Zao's 29.09.64 (1964)|Christie's Hong Kong, 2022 | Sold: HK$278 million

Lot 1029 | Pablo Picasso | Femme assise a la galette des rois (Seated woman with a king cake), Oil on canvas

Created in 1965
100 x 73 cm

  • Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (inv. no. 011662; acquired from the artist)
  • Michel Couturier, Paris
  • Galerie Bonnier, Lausanne
  • Acquired from the above by the father of the present owner circa 1966-67

Estimate: HK$60,000,000 – 80,000,000

Picasso had a lot of lovers in his life – two wives, six mistresses and many short-term love affairs. Each female companion had their own style, which has become an source of inspiration for the Spanish artist.

But his last lover, Jacqueline Roque, became the most frequent and longest-running subject in Picasso's career. From the first time the couple met in 1952 until his death in 1973, Jacqueline was featured in more than 400 portraits – exceeding any of her husband's previous lovers. First appeared in Picasso’s Jacqueline aux Fleurs and Jacqueline aux Bras Croises, painted on successive days of 2 and 3 June 1954 respectively.

Pablo and Jacqueline

The traditional French galette des rois (king cake) is normally eaten during Epiphany and has a feve (coin or figure) hidden inside 

In Femme assise a la galette des rois, Picasso depicts her as an all-seeing classical beauty, invested with a sense of regal authority. Although her image has been partially abstracted by the bifurcation of her face, the dark eyebrows, the beautifully curved eyelids and the firm, straight nose are unmistakably those of Jacqueline.

The love that Picasso felt for his wife and the richness of their time together is reflected in the passionate vitality of the present work. In the portrait, the elegantly crowned Jacqueline is holding a traditional French dessert, the galette des rois (king cake). A cake traditionally baked in the weeks after Christmas, it normally contains a small charm or figurine baked inside it; whoever finds this wins a prize and becomes “king for a day”. This festive detail offers a touching insight into the life of artist and muse and evokes an atmosphere of playful celebration that animates the composition.

Picasso's Femme Accroupie (1954) | Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2021 | Sold: HK$191,651,000 (around US$24.6 million) 

Femme assise a la galette des rois has been in the same family collection since the late 1960s. From 1988 to 1989, this present work was exhibited at Picasso’s major retrospective at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm and it is now appearing for the first time at auction.

In Hong Kong, Picasso's paintings have been well-received. His 1954 work, Femme Accroupie, which also depicts Jacqueline, landed HK$191 million (around US$24.6 million) dollars in October 2021 – the most expensive Picasso painting sold in Asia.

Created in 1954, the painting measures 92.2 by 73 centimetres, which is a similar size to Femme assise a la galette des rois.

Lot 1042 | Pierre Soulages | Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 3 decembre 1956; Oil on canvas

Created in 1956
195 x 130 cm

  • Charles and Peter Gimpel, London
  • Gimpel Fils Gallery, London
  • Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer Gallery, New York
  • Private European Collection
  • Sotheby’s, Paris, 7 December 2011, Lot 9 (consigned by the above, Sold: €1,576,750)
  • Applicat Prazan, Paris
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$40,000,000 – 60,000,000

This present oeuvre was painted on a no. 120 canvas, and according to his catalogue raisonne, Soulages created more than 330 works in the 1950s, but only 50 were painted on no. 120 or larger canvases.

In the past 10 years, only five works of the same type appeared at auction. A painting of the same size as this present one – Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 4 aout 1961 – sold for US$20.1 million dollars at Sotheby's New York in November 2021, and set a new auction record for the French artist.

Pierre Soulages (left) and Zao Wou-Ki (right) were close friends and inspired one another artistically 

Soulages' Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 4 aout 1961 | Sotheby's New York, 2021 | Sold: US$20,141,700

In a turbulent post-war world, artists gained a new understanding of expression and creation. Artists including Soulages abandoned representational methods and established an abstract artistic language within the post-war avant-garde. In Peinture 195 x 130 cm, 3 decembre 1956, glimmering gold and bronze tones seem to emerge from the pitch blackness the epitome of simple elegance. The thick, heavy brushstrokes are accented by refracted white light. He once said, “Black is never the same because light changes it.”

Soulages has been fascinated with archaeology since childhood, and prehistoric wall paintings and medieval monasteries and convents particularly interest him. The strong, architectural quality to the oil paint invokes unique elements from past aesthetic movements. Post-war artists such as Franz Kline and Georges Mathieu also drew inspiration from the Eastern aesthetic. During the mid-20th century, Soulages encountered Zao Wou-Ki and other Asian painters in Paris, and in this cultural milieu, he started to create abstract compositions with calligraphic rhythms.

Other highlight lots:

Lot 1040 | Chu Teh-chun | Printemps precoce (Early spring), Oil on canvas (diptych)

Created in 1985
192 x 258 cm

  • Important Private European Collection

Estimate: HK$18,000,000 – 28,000,000

Lot 1044 | Zao Wou-Ki | 04.01.62, Oil on canvas

Created in 1962
65 x 92 cm

  • The Redfern Gallery, London
  • Liverpool, S. Samuels Esq. (acquired from the above in 1962)
  • Sotheby's, London, 3 December 1981, Lot 530
  • Private European Collection
  • Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 4 April 2011, Lot 635 (consigned by the above)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 25,000,000

Lot 1031 | Joan Miro | Personnage dans la nuit (Figure in the night), Oil on canvas

91.7 x 73 cm

  • Spanish Royal Family (acquired from the artist in 1980)
  • Private Collection, Mexico (a gift from the above in the 1980s)
  • Private Collection, Mexico (by descent from the above)
  • Thence by descent to the present owner

Estimate: HK$12,000,000 – 18,000,000

Lot 1022 | Georgette Chen | Pansies, Oil on canvas

55.5 x 46.3 cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist
  • Important Private Asian Collection
  • Thence by descent to the present owner

Estimate: HK$7,000,000 – 9,000,000 

Lot 1027 | Wu Guanzhong | The Dahuo Stream, Oil on board

Created in 1972
44.2 x 36.2 cm

  • Important Private Asian Collection

Estimate: HK$5,000,000 – 8,000,000

Lot 1030 | Lin Fengmian | Chinese opera series: Scene of Assassination of Wang Liao, Oil on canvas mounted on board

Created in circa 1959-1960s
58.4 x 47.8 cm

  • Collection of Ma Yu-Chi
  • Ming Shan Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 31 October 2004, Lot 657
  • Private Asian Collection (acquired from the above)
  • Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 6 October 2020, Lot 741 (consigned by the above, Sold: HK$8,887,000)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$4,000,000 – 8,000,000

Lot 1017 | Le Pho | The et Sympathie, Oil on canvas

131 x 195 cm

  • Freeman Fine Arts Philadelphia, 07 November 2010, Lot 377
  • United Asian Auctioneers Hong Kong, 28 May 2011, Lot 54
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$3,800,000 – 6,800,000

Lot 1014 | Vu Cao Dam | Seated Lady, Ink and gouache on silk

Created in circa 1935-1940
74 x 55 cm

  • Private Asian Collection
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 30 September 2018, Lot 1044 (consigned by the above, Sold: HK$2,375,000)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$3,500,000 – 5,500,000

Lot 1034 | Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita | Madone a l'enfant, Oil, gold leaf, pen, brush and india ink on canvas

Created in circa 1950s 
41 x 33 cm

  • Galerie Romanet, Algiers
  • Private Collection, France (acquired from the above circa 1955)
  • Private Collection, France (by descent from the above)
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2021, Lot 134 (consigned by the above, Sold: HK$3,000,000)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner 

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 – 5,000,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Modern Evening Auction
Date and Time: 7 October 2022 | 6:30pm (Hong Kong local time)
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, No. 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Number of lots: 39