Zao Wou-Ki 趙無極, ‘Bol et Feuilles sur Fond Rouge (Bowl and Leaves with Red Background)’, 1953, Phillips

Property of an Important American Collector

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki.
This work is referenced in the archive of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki and will be included in the artist's forthcoming catalogue raisonné prepared by Françoise Marquet and Yann Hendgen (Information provided by Fondation Zao Wou-Ki).

From the Catalogue:
Bol et Feuilles sur Fond Rouge (Bowl and Leaves with Red Background) represents an exceptionally rare still life painting by the late Zao Wou-ki, renowned master of postwar abstraction and one of the most highly respected Chinese artists of his generation. Zao is being honoured with a major retrospective exhibition currently being held at the Asia Society (New York City, September 2016 – January 2017) showcasing works drawn from key public and private collections throughout America, Europe and Asia. Though Zao is recognised, undoubtedly, as a French painter of the postwar School of Paris, having completed all of his mature work in France after leaving China, he never entirely relinquished his Chinese training. More accurately, Zao’s work arises from 'the tension created by his in-between-ness, which is to say from being both inside and outside the two traditions' (Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London, 1994, p. 38, in Weitz, Walt and Yun, No Limits: Zao Wou-ki, New Haven and London, 2016, p. 17).

Painted in 1953, the present lot is a rare and beautiful example of only a few existing paintings in which Zao expresses his creative sensibilities through a genre more closely associated with seventeenth-century European art traditions, as well as its re-appropriations by the French Post-Impressionists. Since his student days at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts, studying under the highly respected Lin Fengmian, Zao drew inspiration from the champions of Western modernism including Paul Klee, Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse—their own still life works being experiments in volume, space and colour. Dismissing concerns of perspective and lighting, Bol et Feuilles sur Fond Rouge portrays a flattened blood-red composition that fades at the top to reveal the bare canvas. On the surface of this brilliantly pigmented, heavily worked background, the artist depicts three angular shapes denoting dried leaves, a few budding twigs, and a simplistically rendered vessel curiously marked by a wide band of archaic patterns.

From a young age, the artist became familiar with oracle-bone script and Shang-dynasty bronze designs that appeared on objects collected by his father, inspiring Zao to appropriate forms from Chinese antiquity into his artwork created in 1953 until the mid-1960s. Zao’s glyphs imbue the work with references to the start of civilisation, the age of primitive man engraving the objects of the world with great inquisitiveness and precision. Implementing the divinations and historical records contained in the oracle bone inscriptions, Bol et Feuilles sur Fond Rouge articulates an ancient Chinese cosmology. Zao accentuates some of the earliest examples of the formal beauty of Chinese characters, delineating the semiotic relationship between text and image.

Conjoining the artist’s exposure to Western modernism abroad with his inspiration taken from the creative impulses of the ancients who created the first Chinese writing over three thousand years earlier, Bol et Feuilles sur Fond Rouge depicts Zao’s forging of his own 'characters and language, or a system of symbols' (Zao Wou-Ki, Bokubi, Tokyo, no. 76, 1958, pp. 2-3).
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed, titled and dated 'Bol et Feuilles sur fond rouge 53 ZAO WOU-KI' on the reverse

Galerie Pierre, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Zao Wou-Ki 趙無極

A master of postwar art and the highest-selling Chinese painter of his generation, Zao Wou-ki applied Modernist art-making techniques to traditional Chinese literati painting. Zao moved to Paris in 1948, rejected his Chinese heritage, and immediately began painting in the style of Paul Klee, whose own style was influenced by Chinese landscape painting. By 1954, Zao had developed a unique style that was marked by contrasting colors and lyrical abstraction and that merged Chinese art, as viewed through the lens of European abstraction, with traditional Chinese landscapes. Zao remained wary of objectively Chinese-influenced art and avoided using ink for much of his career, preferring to work with oil paints in a calligraphic style. Like traditional Chinese landscape painting, Zao’s paintings function as fragments of a larger scene, possessing fluidity, transparency, and a graceful luminosity representative of the artist’s interior energies.

Chinese-French, 1921-2013, Beijing, China