Zao Wou-Ki

Important Chinese painting recognized upon arrival

Words by
Nick Thorn
Published on
November 30, 2018
A photo o Zao Wou-ki’s  "Oiseaux dans les nids'
Zao Wou-ki’s 1951 oil on canvas, Oiseaux dans les nids, sold for $487,500 on May 20, 2017.

Recognizing it immediately from across the room, I saw Oiseaux dans les Nids leaning up on the cataloger’s desk and walked right over to it. Squinting at the Pinyin signature, I said “That’s a Zao Wou-ki — that’s a fantastic painting.” The consignor had acquired it from a New York City estate but did not know who the artist was. Having sold a Zao Wou-ki several years before, I was familiar with the Chinese-French artist’s 1950s style and signature.

A photo detail of the signature from Zao Wou-ki’s  "Oiseaux dans les nids'
Detail of the signature.

In somewhat of a precarious condition and in real need of a cleaning, the work was sent out for restoration, while the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki in Switzerland assisted in its authentication. The painting was exhibited in both New York and Litchfield, Connecticut. Once at auction, bidding was fast, enthusiastic, and exciting, with ten phone bidders competing for this early example of Zao Wou-ki’s work — ultimately driving the price way above its $250,000 high estimate.

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