Chinese artists by Michel Nau - Zao Wou Ki

ZAO WOU-KI    赵无极

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Zao Wou-Ki




 Zao Wou-Ki  赵无极 with Li Shuang 李爽


Zao Wou-Ki  赵无极 with Li Shuang 李爽


赵无极  pinyin  Zhao Wuji



1921  Zao Wou-Ki  was born in Beijing on February 13th , in a family of intellectuals
belonging the Song Dynasty
( 10th-13th centuries A.D. ) 
Soon after, his parents moved to Nantung, a small town in the north of Shanghai, where his father
was appointed banker.

1931  He started drawing and painting at the age of ten years old and learns Chinese characters with
his grandfather.

1935  He entered the School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou. The first three years, he studied drawing from plaster,
then the next two, from live models. The oil painting was taught only in the final year, but Zao Wou-Ki will not
wait to paint still life and portraits, including portraits of his sister.

1941  He was appointed assistant of his school.

1942  He organized an exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History in Chongqing with works by:
Lin Fong-Mien, Wu Ta-Yu, Kouang Leang, Tin Yin-Yong, Lin Kuang-Tang
and himself.


1948  He left China for France, with his wife Lan-Lan.
Upon arrival in Paris on April 1st, Zao Wou-ki visited the Louvre.

He settled in the Montparnasse district, first in hotels and in a nearby workshop of Alberto Giacometti,
rue du Moulin Vert
He enrolled at the French Alliance in order to learn French and follow the course of Emile Othon Friesz
at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere.

He became friends with the artists that he met at the Galerie Nina Dausset, rue du Dragon: Norman Bluhm, Hans Hartung, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Sam Francis, Pierre Soulages, Nicolas de Stael, Maria Vieira da Silva.

1949  First exposition, galerie Greuze..

1950  Henri Michaux introduced him to the gallery owner Pierre Loeb, with who he worked seven years.
He took part of the Salon de Mai, where he exhibited regularly until 1978.etook part of the Salon de Mai, where he exhibited regularly until 1978.

Two exhibitions in Bern and Geneva introduced him to the work of Paul Klee, he will follow his approach.

He exhibits regularly in Switzerland ( Basel, Lausanne ) and the USA ( Chicago, New York, Washington )
and London.

He realized the scenery of the Ballet La Perle for Roland Petit.

any travels

After visiting Italy, Spain, Holland, England, he spent some time in New York.
There, he became friend with many artists Baziotes, J.Brooks, Philip Guston, Gotlieb, Hanz Hoffman,
Franz Kline, Saul Steinberg.

He stayed three weeks in Japan and visit Hong Kong where he met Chan May Kan who would become
his second wife.

1957 Gildo Caputo and Myriam Prévot asked him to work for la Galerie de France.

Samuel Kootz sign a contract with him and decide to expose his work regularly at Sam Kootz gallery
in New York.

1959  He transformed a former warehouse located in Jonquoy street in the XIV arrondissement of Paris,
by the architect Georges Johannet.

1962  He illustrated with ten lithographs The Temptation of the West, from Andre Malraux.
He pursue with the poetry of Roger Caillois, René Char, Jean Laude, Jean Lescure, Saint-John Perse,
Arthur Rimbaud..

1964  He obtained the French citizenship.

1970  He hosted a seminar created by the painter Oscar Kokoska, at the Salzburg Festival.

1972  His wife died from a long chronic illness. Then, he travelled to China to see his family.
That same year, the Galerie de France exposed paint and ink of the artist and sculptures of May.

1973   After a long interruption, Zao Wou-Ki began painting large formats, most of which will be exhibited
at the Tokyo Fuji Television Gallery in 1977.

1978  With his new wife, Françoise Marquet, curator of the Museums of the City of Paris, he will be in contact
with his friends: I. and Eilee Pei, Sam and Joyce Kootz, in New York, and meet again Joan Miro in Madrid.

The Honors

1979 The National Library presented eighty prints from the donation of Zao Wou-Ki, with a number
of the "News Print".

1980   He was appointed professor of mural paint at the ENSAD of Paris.
( Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs)

1981  Major retrospective of his work at the “Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais”, in Paris.

1983  Invited by the Chinese Ministry of Culture, Zao Wou-Ki exhibited for the first time since he left to China,
at the National Museum in Beijing and also in his old school the Zyejiang Academy of Fine Arts.

1984  He was appointed Officer of the Legion of Honor, on the proposal of the Minister of Culture, Jack Lang.

1988  Major retrospective organized by Artcurial at the F.I.A.C and also, release of his autobiography
"Self-Portrait", written in collaboration with Françoise Marquet.

1993  He was promoted to Commander of the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic,
François Mitterrand.

1994  Winner of the Premium Imperial Award of painting in Japan, he went with his wife to Tokyo in order
to receive the Imperial Prize.

1996  Retrospective at the Museum of Arts in Kaohsiung,Taiwan, then, to the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

2001  He received the Award of the Taylor Foundation.

2002  He was elected member of the Academy of Fine Arts on December 4, the chair of Jean Carzou.

2003  Retrospective of a hundred of his works in the gallery of the Jeu de Paume in Paris.
           26.11 Réception
in the dome,  Zao Wou-Ki.



Speechin tribute to Zao Wou-Ki by Roland Taillibert 
during the reception in the dome for Zao Wou-Ki , who is replacing Jean Carzou
November 26th 2003


2008  Retrospective of engraved works at the National Library of France and at the Suzhou Museum in China.

2010  Retrospective at the Arpad Szenes-Vieira da Silva Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal.

2011 He created 14 stained glasses for the réfectoire des chanoines du prieuré of Saint-Cosmes à La Riche
( unique achievement in the art of stained glass, his entire career ).

2012  Suffering from Alzheimer disease,  Zao wou-ki  recently  moved to Switzerland with his wife, on the shores of Lake Leman. A legal battle is ongoing because the son of the artist Jia-Ling Zhao, contest that decision by accusing his stepmother ( who created the Geneva Zao Wou-Ki Foundation ) to monopolize the work of his husband. Two procedures for guardianship have been incurred.

2013  Since late March, the painter was hospitalized twice. He died Tuesday, April 9 at the age of 93.

He is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery, alongside with Chan May ,his second wife and mother of his daughter.

 D. Sicard



multiple sources : Like every synthesis, this biography only exists , thanks to the work of specialists that can be found in the books and catalogues indexed in the bibliography of this site.




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