Zao Wou-ki, 1920-2013


Zao Wou-ki, Chinese modernist painter, died Apr. 9, age 93, at his home in Switzerland. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In 2011, he was the highest-selling living Chinese artist at auction.

Zao was born in Beijing in 1921 and moved to France in 1948, the year before the Chinese Communist revolution. He gained his French citizenship in 1964 and lived in France until last year.

With his European- and Chinese-influenced abstract works, Zao is considered a School of Paris artist. He wished to distance himself from the Chinese tradition of ink painting, but gained notice with his abstract 1954 painting Wind, which recalls traditional Chinese ink painting. He was showing regularly in Paris and New York galleries by the 1950s.

Major Zao exhibitions have appeared at the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais (1981), the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (2003) and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (2008). Zao’s works are in the collections of several modern art museums such as the Tate in London and the Guggenheim in New York.

Zao began showing his works in China in 1983, and throughout the ’90s his paintings were included in exhibitions in major Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. In the 2000s, Chinese collectors began to display great interest in his early work. In 2011, a 1968 abstract painting was sold by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for a record-breaking $8.8 million.

Since 2003, Zao has been represented in New York by Marlborough Gallery.