Zao Wou-Ki was born in Beijing 1920 but spent his childhood in Dantu. He trained at the Hangzhou School of Fine Arts under Lin Fengmian, but in 1949, he made Paris his second home. There, Zao was embraced by artists like Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miro, and Paul Klee, and first learned of Abstract Expressionism. His best known, mature style was dubbed the epitome of 'lyrical abstractionism' and melded this contemporary, Western abstraction with the delicate execution of Eastern art that is grounded deeply in landscape and calligraphy.
In September of 2016, the Asia Society in New York opened the first retrospective of the artist’s work in the United States. Titled “No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki”—the literal translation of the artist’s name—the exhibition brought together works held in both public and private collections from around the world, including the countries which had been so formative to him.
One month later, an ink on paper drawing executed by Zao Wou-Ki was included in Freeman’s fall Modern & Contemporary Art auction. Painted in 1951, “Sans Titre (Assisi)” is a rare, early landscape painted in the ink-wash and calligraphic style of the classical Chinese tradition. Originally estimated at $25,000-40,000, “Sans Titre” sold for $110,500 at Freeman’s, illustrating the connection between scholarly attention and market interest.
This spring, Freeman’s will offer “15.04.80 – Triptych” (estimate $600,000-800,000) as part of our May 8th Modern & Contemporary Art auction. The piece belonged to Ambassador Arthur Hartman & Mrs. Donna Hartman, who acquired the painting directly from the artist in Paris, where the couple lived during Mr. Hartman’s appointment as Ambassador to France under President Carter. The artist completed his first large triptych in 1966, titled “01.04.66.” In 1975, he began to paint smaller diptychs or triptychs, often less than one meter long. Between 1975 and 1979, Zao completed ten of these small paintings, with production of this type of canvas peaking in 1980. He painted two in January, two in April, and one in September. “15.04.80” belongs to this timeframe.
The triptych will be on exhibition in New York City from March 18 through the 21, and then will travel to Hong Kong, where it will be exhibited from March 26 through the 30. It will be shown in Philadelphia from May 3 through the 7, and will be auctioned on May 8.