Zao Wou-Ki

Born in Beijing, China, into a family of intellectuals, Zao was already trained in classical calligraphy by his grandfather before being accepted into the Hangzhou Academy of Art at the tender age of fourteen. There, under the tutelage of renowned artists including Lin Fengmian and Pan Tianshou, he mastered not only traditional Chinese painting techniques, but also such Western academic skills as linear perspective and chiaroscuro. After graduation, Zao stayed on as a professor at the Academy (1941-47) where he held his inaugural solo exhibition.


Arriving in Paris in 1948, Zao’s debut solo exhibition took place in May 1949 at Galerie Creuze. This was followed by a succession of shows at the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon d’Automne. By late 1953, Zao had started to shift completely away from figurative naturalism, joining the Lyrical Abstraction movement which included Serge Poliakoff and Pierre Soulages. Works during this period drew further inspiration from ancient Chinese bronzes and oracle-bone inscriptions.


The 1960s saw an enduring move towards abstraction as the artist explored a deeper, more metaphysical space in his paintings. 1972 marked Zao’s first trip back to China since he left as a young artist. He became reinspired to work with oil pigments, but based firmly on the principles of Chinese ink wash techniques. Thus began a series of large-scale paintings where oil is applied with feather-light touches to create hazy landscapes with floating mists – an unmistakable homage to Chinese shanshui paintings.


Zao exhibited his mature works in Beijing and Hangzhou for the first time in 1983. His works since are characterised by a rich, bright palette that explore the pure, expressive effects of light. Zao was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 2002 and received the title of Grand Officer de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur in 2006.


In 2016 the Asia Society in New York held ‘Zao Wou-Ki: No Limits’, showcasing the artist’s adaption of the visual poetry of Chinese art through the medium of oil painting. Between now and the spring of 2018, the artist will be the focus of ‘The Infinities of Zao Wou-Ki,’ at the Asia University Museum of Modern Art in Taichung (Taiwan), and from the summer of 2019, the Musée D’Art Moderne de La Ville de Paris will dedicate to Zao ‘L’espace est Silence’- an exhibition of Zao’s large scale pieces.


Public Collections
National Institute of Fine Arts, Beijing, China
Suzhou Musem, Suzhou, China
Veranneman Foundation, Kruishoutem, Belgium
Bibliothèque Royale Albert 1er de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium
Musée d’Art Moderne, Musées Royaux de Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium
The Tate Gallery, London, England
The Tate Gallery, Liverpool, England
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England
Bibliothéque Nationale de France, Paris, France
Bibliothèque Municipale, Nevers, France
Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France
Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, Arles, France
Fondation François Pinault, Paris, France
Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar, France
Musée de la Poste, Paris, France
Musée Pierre Noël, Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France
Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
Musée Ingres, Montauban, France
Musée de l’Hospice Saint-Roch, Issoudun, France
Musée Greuze, Tournus, France
Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France
Musée de l’Ancien Evêché, Evreux, France
Musée du Dessin et de l’Estampe Originale, Gravelines, France
Musée Bertrand, Châteauroux, France
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours, France
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Le Havre, France
Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Histoire Naturelle, Valence, France
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Metz, France
Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, Paris, France
Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins, Paris, France
Manufacture Nationale de la Savonnerie, Paris, France
Lieu d’Art et d’Action Contemporaine, Dunkerque, France
Galerie der Stadt, Etta and Otto Stangl Collection, Stuttgart, Germany
Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Genoa, Italy
Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan, Italy
The Tokyo International Forum, Tokyo, Japan
Nobutaka Shikanei Collection, Tokyo, Japan
Nippon Broadcasting System, Inc, Tokyo, Japan
National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan
Nagaoka Contemporary Art Museum, Nagaoka, Japan
Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan
Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, Spain
Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain
Musée Olympique, Lausanne, Switzerland, Lausanne, Switzerland
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, “Fondation Gerald Cramer” , Geneva, Switzerland
Fondation Collection Thyssen-Bornemisza, Castagnola, Switzerland
Collection Nesto Jacometti, Pinacoteca Comunale Casa Rusca, Locarno, Switzerland
Taiwan Museum of Art, Tai-Chung, Taiwan
Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, United States
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York, United States
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, United States
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, United States
Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Berkeley University, Medical Research Center, Los Angeles, California, United States
Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Atlanta Art Center, Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, California, United States
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, United States
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California, United States
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, United States
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, United States