Sold for HK$510m, Zao Wou-ki’s Largest Work Becomes Most Expensive Oil Painting by Asian Artist

The unstoppable frenzy for Zao Wou-ki once again astonished the world following the latest auction records set by the artist’s largest work ever created. Measuring 280 x 1,000 cm, Zao Wou-ki’s Juin-Octobre 1985 was hammered down at HK$450m at Sotheby’s Hong Kong and sold for a whopping HK$510m (US$65m) after premium. Not only did it break the record for the most valuable painting sold in Hong Kong auctions, but it also obliterated the world auction record for an oil painting by an Asian artist.

Juin-Octobre 1985 is the largest ever work by Franco-Chinese Artist Zao Wou-ki

The painting was hammered down at HK$450m

Vinci Chang, Sotheby’s Head of Modern Asian Art

Sebastian Fahey, Sotheby’s Managing Director - Business, Asia

The auctioneer brought the hammer down, followed by a round of applause in the room

Juin-Octobre 1985 is a triptych measuring 280 x 1,000cm, the largest size that Zao Wou-ki ever worked on. The painting was offered at Sotheby’s Modern Art Evening Sale on 30 September. The auctioneer opened the bidding at HK$300m and received following bids from mainly two telephone bidders, respectively represented by Vinci Chang, Sotheby’s Head of Modern Asian Art and Sebastian Fahey, Sotheby’s Managing Director - Business, Asia.

After receiving six bids, the auctioneer brought the hammer down at HK$450m and sold the painting for HK$510m (with premium included) to Sebastian Fahey, who acted on behalf of his telephone client. People in the salesroom gave a round of applause for this record-setting price, which doubled Zao Wou-ki’s previous record of HK$202m at Christie’s Hong Kong last year.

Juin-Octobre 1985 was last sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2005 for HK$18m. After 13 years, the painting reappeared on the market and commanded the extraordinary price of HK$510m, 28 times the price fetched in 2005, an increase of more than HK$490m in value.

Triptychs are more commonly seen in Western paintings, especially in religious paintings of the Renaissance. To work on such a large-scale triptych, the artist needs to think carefully about how to construct his work. So it’s very likely that Zao Wou-ki had thought about the whole painting process from the very beginning to the end in his mind before he could proceed to paint. Besides, the work is 1,000 cm wide and 280 cm tall, about two times Zao Wou-ki’s height. One can imagine how difficult and challenging it was to the artist.

Zao Wou-ki and I. M. Pei. 1976Françoise Marquet

Juin-Octobre 1985 was commissioned personally by celebrated architect I. M. Pei for Raffles City in Singapore. These two international masters first met in 1952 at the Galerie Pierre Loeb in Paris and established an immediate camaraderie. As I.M. Pei’s career as an architect gained momentum and success, he began commissioning Zao Wou-ki to create paintings for the walls of his building projects. In 1980, I.M. Pei was given the reins to design Singapore’s Raffles City. I.M. Pei had invited Zao Wou-ki to tour the premises and commissioned the artist to create a large panel painting for the grand lobby of the main building before the completion of the building.

Zao Wou-ki returned to France and devoted himself to the painting, working tirelessly for five months. Juin-Octobre 1985 was finally completed and unveiled to the world in October 1985.

Juin-Octobre 1985 exhibited in Singapore's Raffles City|Courtesy Foundation Zao Wou-ki

Juin-Octobre 1985 possesses the trademark characteristics of Zao Wou-ki’s Infinite Period. The paramount characteristic of the 'Infinite Period' is a compositional departure from using a central axis, in which the visual weight is distributed along a vertical or horizontal dividing line. The artist’s change in composition is not merely a visual one, however, but a significant shift rooted deeply in artistic and human philosophy.

Most Expensive Oil Painting by An Asian Artist

Zao Wou-ki (1920-2013). Juin-Octobre 1985.

Lot no.: 1004
Created in: 1985
Size: 280 x 1,000cm

  • Raffles City Collection, Singapore
  • Christie’s, Hong Kong, 29 May 2005, Lot 241
  • Important Private Asian Collection

Estimate: HK$350,000,000
Hammer price: HK$450,000,000
Price realised: HK$510,371,000

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Modern Art Evening Sale
Sale date: 30 September 2018