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A salute to a legend's long life

Updated: 2013-04-12 10:04
By Zhang Zixuan and Lin Qi ( China Daily)

 A salute to a legend's long life

Zao Wou-ki's 10.03.83 fetched HK$37 million ($4.8 million) at Sotheby's Hong Kong sales on April 6. Photos provided to China Daily

Zao Wou-ki was one of the first Chinese artists to gain global recognition. He passed away on Tuesday at his home in Switzerland aged 92. Zhang Zixuan and Lin Qi report.

Chinese-French artist Zao Wou-ki, who only stopped painting when complications from Alzheimer's forced him into retirement, passed away at his home in Switzerland on Tuesday at the age of 92. Zao was one of the world's most successful Chinese oil painters, both in terms of artistic accomplishment and performance at auction. Hailed as a reformer of Chinese art, he was one of the first Chinese artists to win recognition outside his homeland. His artworks appeal to collectors around the world thanks to his international perspective and the spirit of the Orient that he embodied.

Zao became a French citizen in 1964 and is also a respected artist in his adopted country. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said of Zao's death: "What passes with him is an emblematic figure of lyrical abstraction to which his work has made an outstanding contribution."

Born in Beijing in 1921, Zao soon moved with his family to Nantong, Jiangsu province. He was the oldest of seven children in an intellectual family. His banker father was an art lover and owned a large collection of antiques.

Zao demonstrated an early interest in Chinese bronze ware and began his art studies in 1935 at age 14, at Hangzhou National School of Art - now the China Academy of Art, Zhejiang province.

Over the following six years, Zao studied traditional Chinese and Western painting techniques from art masters including Lin Fengmian (1900-91). His time at the school also exposed him to the art of European masters Cezanne (1839-1906), Matisse (1869-1954) and Picasso (1881-1973), who provided the visions he believed were "closest to nature".

After graduation he became a young teacher at his alma mater and held his first solo exhibition in 1941.

In 1948, Zao went to France to chase his dream of becoming a successful artist, helped along by a gift of $30,000 given by his father.

It took 36 days to reach Marseilles by boat. The day Zao arrived at Paris by train, he went straight to the Louvre Museum.

Over the next 18 months the young artist spent every afternoon at a museum or gallery. In 1949, his first Paris solo exhibition was held at the Creuze Gallery. It was the first of 160 exhibitions worldwide.

Strongly influenced by Swiss-German painter Paul Klee (1879-1940), Zao gradually abandoned details, moving away from representational painting and turning toward abstraction.


A salute to a legend's long life

A salute to a legend's long life

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