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The Night is Stirring (La nuit remue)

Blue abstract painting with gray, red, black vertical blurry design.

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  • Blue abstract painting with gray, red, black vertical blurry design.




Zao Wou-Ki
French, born China, 1921-2013

About this artwork

Born in Beijing, Zao Wou-ki moved to Paris in 1948. He had studied at China’s most progressive art academy, training in both Western oil painting and Chinese ink painting and calligraphy. Despite his education, Zao’s arrival in the cosmopolitan French capital prompted for him a more tangible, as well as conceptual, reckoning with Eastern and Western aesthetics. However, it was not until he traveled to the United States, where he viewed Abstract Expressionist paintings for the first time, did the artist embrace exclusively the atmospheric abstraction for which he became known. After returning to Paris, Zao began to create sweeping, large-scale compositions and swiftly rose to prominence among a circle of fellow Paris-based abstract painters interested in lyrical and intuitive mark making, including American Joan Mitchell and German-born Hans Hartung.

In The Night is Stirring, Zao built up layers of jewel-toned color, activated by touches of lurid red and a torquing column that seems to climb up the center of the canvas. While his dark, inky brushstrokes call to mind Chinese calligraphy, still more traditional Chinese painting is reflected through Zao’s manipulation of the tropes of the landscape format, which emphasizes the rhythms
and energies of nature more than a strictly realistic approach. Suspended between the conventions of Chinese landscape painting and the materiality of Western oil painting, Zao’s canvas occupies other in-between states as well; it is, for example, an abstract work that suggests not only landscape in general but nightfall more specifically. Zhang borrowed the title from a book of poems by writer and painter Henri Michaux, a close friend and mentor.


Currently Off View


Contemporary Art


Wou-Ki Zao


The Night is Stirring (La nuit remue)


France (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on linen


Without frame: 193 × 130 cm (76 × 51 3/16 in.); 194.4 × 129.6 cm (76 1/2 × 51 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Kootz

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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