Signed and signed in Chinese bottom right, signed again, titled, dated '15.4.80,' inscribed with dimensions and dedicated 'Pour Donna et Arthur A. Hartman / Amitiés, de Françoise et Zao Wou-Ki' verso, oil on three joined canvases.
triptych: 13 5/8 x 28 3/16 in. (34.6 x 71.6cm)
The Ambassador Arthur Hartman & Mrs. Donna Hartman, Paris, France (acquired directly from the above circa 1980).
By family descent.
Jean Leymarie, Zao Wou-Ki, Paris : Éditions Cercle d'Art; Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafia, 1986, no. 535 (p. 351, illustrated).
This lot is accompanied by a photo-certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki, dated 12 Mars 2018 and signed by Françoise Marquet, the artist's widow and President of the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki.
We are grateful to Mr. Yann Hendgen for his assistance cataloguing and researching this work.
Zao Wou-Ki, the Chinese-French master of postwar abstraction, created a unique visual language that drew from both western modernism and Chinese aesthetics. His artistic journey began at age fifteen when he enrolled in the art academy at Hangzhou, continued during wartime in Chongqing, and eventually led him to Paris in 1948, an anticipated two-year visit that lasted a lifetime. Within a few years of arriving in Paris, his modernist aesthetic was recognized in Europe, America, and Asia, and today Zao Wou-Ki is celebrated as an early exemplar of global abstraction."15.04.80 - TRIPTYQUE" captures the artist at the height of his mature style. Zao's early explorations with Chinese calligraphy gave way to pure abstraction in 1957, and by the late 1960s, Zao softened the hard edges of abstraction with the sensibilities and structural nuances of his earliest artistic training: ink painting. One sees that shift in "15.04.80 - TRIPTYQUE." Its complex evocation of space oscillates between abstraction and tangibility, and at once suggests crashing waves, misty landscape forms, and cosmic forces made visible.The painting's power can be attributed to Zao's masterful color sense, and to his muscular application of pigments. The soft palette here deviates from the vibrant colors of many of Zao's paintings. Indeed, "15.04.80 - TRIPTYQUE," completed in early April, suggests the pale colors of springtime -- yellow, pink, blue -- veiled in mist, and punctuated by occasional passages of darker pigment. The richly textured surface, another distinctive feature of Zao's paintings, further animates the work. Thickly applied pigments reach a crescendo in the central panel, giving every indication of having been applied with crumpled paper or cloth rather than swept on with conventional brushstrokes.Throughout his long career, Zao set continual artistic challenges for himself. He experimented with different media, moving between oils and watercolors, and mastered a variety of printing processes. He also experimented with scale, working on ever-larger compositions from the mid-1950s. And beginning in 1966, he tried working with multiple panels, which offered a means of increasing scale. Some of them -- diptychs, triptychs, quadriptychs - achieved near-monumental size."15.04.80 - TRIPTYQUE," though, is not one of these. Instead, it is one of a handful of small-scale triptychs, a format that Zao turned to occasionally beginning in the mid-1970s. While multiple canvases made perfect sense for enlarging overall compositional size, why these small ones? The answer may lie in the challenge they posed for him. "15.04.80 - TRIPTYQUE" cannot be understood merely as a reduction of a larger work. Instead, it required that Zao create a harmonious composition on an entirely different scale, one that made sense structurally and visually, given the three-canvas format. Balance and proportion needed to be accommodated. Furthermore, the bold gestural marks that are a hallmark of Zao's large works required more restraint here, and yet needed to achieve similar visual impact - which they do.Arthur Hartman acquired Zao Wou-Ki's "15.04.80 - TRIPTYQUE" shortly after its creation. As American ambassador to France, Hartman and Zao moved in the same cultural circles and came to know one another well. Given Zao Wou-Ki's wide-ranging interests and magnetic personality, it comes as no surprise that the two forged a warm friendship, with this painting a physical manifestation of their bond.Melissa WaltColby College-Co-curator and co-author of "No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki," The Asia Society, New York, 2017
About The Artist: