One of the highlights of this weekend’s Asian art sales in Hong Kong is this painting by Zao Wou-ki being sold by the Harvard Art Museum. The painting comes from a pivotal moment in the expatriate’s career and carries an estimate at between $1.3 and $1.9 million. Click on the image to link to a talk by Christie’s specialist, Ingrid Dudek. Or go to this International Herald Tribune‘s story on the growing focus on Zao as a giant of 20th Century Chinese art.
“Zao is part of a coterie of Chinese artists that came of aesthetic age in the 1950s, an intriguing period of time that saw a wide range of Chinese artists practicing in the most diverse circumstance imaginable,” said Joan Kee, a University of Michigan art historian who is a specialist on postwar and contemporary Asian painting. “On the one hand there was Zao, living in Paris and represented by important New York galleries like Samuel Kootz,” she said. “Then you had artists like Lin Fengmian, working under the Communist regime on the eve of the anti-rightist campaign.”
Zao moved to France a year before Mao Zedong took control of China, and by the 1950s the painter’s career was thriving thanks to a following among European and American collectors. He was acquainted with Paul Klee, whose style influenced Zao’s 1952 work “Les poires vertes” (Green Pears), which will be auctioned at Christie’s on Monday. Pierre Matisse was his dealer at one point.
“Zao was one of the few Chinese artists to reach a level of commercial success that anticipated the present market for contemporary Chinese art,” Dr. Kee said. “He was very good at framing his paintings in terms that audiences of the time could understand. Recall that this is the 1950s, when Asian philosophy and aesthetics drew substantial interest from artists like Henri Michaux, Mark Tobey, and Yves Klein.”
The Subtle Power of Zao Wou-Ki (New York Times)
Nous Deux described by Ingrid Dudek (Christies.com)