Zao Wou-Ki (Chinese/French, 1921–2013), also written Zao Wou Ki, born in Beijing, China, was an internationally-renowned Abstract artist. His role in the Lyrical Abstraction circle of postwar painters in France represented a juncture of Chinese and postwar European and American painting traditions. In 1935, Zao attended the School of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, China, where he learned the techniques of traditional Chinese and Western painting. Nevertheless, he was most heavily influenced by European modernists Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906), Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954), and Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973). He arrived in Paris in April 1948, acquainting himself with European Lyrical Abstraction, a movement of postwar French artists pursuing free-form expression through painting. In 1949, he began making prints, publishing them accompanied by poems from celebrated poet Henri Michaux (Belgian, 1899–1984) in 1950. Upon discovering Paul Klee’s paintings in 1951, Zao began to incorporate ideograms into his paintings. Zao still painted figurative elements, however, and used titles for his works referencing actual objects, before definitively choosing an Abstract aesthetic in 1953, inspired by archaic Chinese characters.

In 1957, Zao met New York gallerist Samuel Kootz, who encouraged him to paint large-scale works with looser, more gestural brushstrokes. From the 1960s on, his paintings focused on space and movement, with forms resembling flowing streams or effervescent magmas; in the late 1960s as the illness of his second wife Chan May Kan worsened, the style of Zao’s paintings became more frenzied. Encouraged by Michaux, Zao resumed Chinese ink painting techniques in 1971, which he had given up in 1948 upon arriving in France for fear of being labeled a "Chinese painter." After his wife Chan May Kan’s death in March 1972, Zao visited China for the first time since 1948. Following the visit, he painted in larger formats, including diptychs and triptychs, created in homage to the people who inspired him in his youth. Zao’s work has been celebrated and exhibited around the world, including at the Venice Biennale in 1996.


Born in Beijing, China into the ancient T’chao family
Enrolled in the Fine Arts School of Hangzhou; remained there for 6 years
Remained at the Arts School as a lecturer after finishing his studies and held his first exhibition in Chungking
Moved to Paris with his wife, Lan-Lan
Awarded first prize in a drawing competition, France
Visited Switzerland for an exhibition of his engravings
Commissioned to illustrate "La Tentation de l’Occident" by the French Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux
Granted French citizenship
Jean-Michel Meurice makes a film on Zao Wou-ki
Led a seminar organised by the artist Oskar Kokoschka for the Salzburg music festival
Started first ink works
Met the Baron and Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisa during their visit to Paris
Visited China for the opening of the Fragrant Hills Hotel designed by his good friend I.M.Pei. Zao created two very large works done in Chinese ink for the opening
Awarded the Legion d’honneur by the French Ministry of Culture
Went to China (Hangzhou) where he taught classes on painting and modern art
Promoted by the President of the French Republic to Commandeur de la Legion d’honneur
Travelled to Japan to be awarded the Imperial Prize (fine arts)
Received at the French Académie des Beaux Arts November 26
Made a ‘Grand Officier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur’, and decorated by the French President Jacques Chirac on 3rd November 2006 at the Palais de l’Elysée


Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2013:
Important Contemporary Chinese Artists, Alisan Fine Arts, ART HK 12, Hong Kong, China
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2009:
Celebrating Zao Wou-Ki, French May Festival, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, China (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2008:
Zao Wou-Ki Retrospective, Bilbiothèque nationale de France, Paris, France (solo exhibition)
Château de Nemours, France
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2007:
Château de Nemours, France
Exploration: New Ink Art Shanghai, 3rd Shanghai Ink Biennial, Zhu Qizhan Art Museum, Shanghai, China (solo exhibition)
Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China 2007, Central Library, Hong Kong, China
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2006:
Art & Imitation in China, The University of Hong Kong, China (solo exhibition)
Black & White Dream, reopening of the Suzhou Museum, China
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2005:
Zao Wou-ki Retrospective, Bridgestone Museum, Tokyo, Japan (solo exhibition); Bellevue, Biarritz, France (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2004:
Zao Wou-ki Retrospective, Musée des beaux-arts, Dunkerque, France (solo exhibition); Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2003:
Retrospective Zao Wou-ki curated by Markku Valkonen, Taidehalli, Helsinki, Finland (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-ki Recent Works, Marlborough Gallery, New York,NY, USA (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-ki Watercolours, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, China (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-ki Retrospective, Musée du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2002:
Signe(s) (regard crise sur des encres d’Henri Michaux à Zao Wou-ki), Kamel Mennour Gallery, Paris, France (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2001:
Recent Inks, Institut Français, Barcelona, Spain (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-ki Retrospective, IVAM Centre Julio Gonzalez, Valencia, Spain (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-ki Retrospective, Musée d'Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 2000:
Zao Wou-ki, Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (solo exhibition)
Musée du Petit-Palais, Paris, France
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1999:
Zao Wou-ki Works in Ink 1953-1999 Writing Room, Figeac, France (solo exhibition)
Maîtres de l’Encre: Chang Dai-Chien, T’ang Haywen, Zao Wou-ki, Musée de Pontoise, Paris, France
Zao Wou-ki Graphic Works, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, China (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-ki 60 Years of Painting, Retrospective exhibition at the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China; Palace of Fine Arts, Beijing, China; Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1998:
Zao Wou-ki 60 Years of Painting, Retrospective exhibition at the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China; Palace of Fine Arts, Beijing, China; Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China (solo exhibition)
Galerie Thessa Herold, Madrid, Spain
Musée des beaux-arts, Angers, France
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1997:
Galerie Krugier-Ditesheim & Cie, Geneva, Switzerland (solo exhibition)
Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei, China (solo exhibition)
Galerie Thessa Herold, Paris, France (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1996:
Retrospective, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan, China (solo exhibition); Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, China (solo exhibition)
Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, China (solo exhibition)
Art Galerie J. Bastien, Brussels, Belgium (solo exhibition)
Jan Krugier Gallery, New York, NY, USA (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1995:
Henri Michaux/Zao Wou-ki, une rencontre-une amitié Galerie Lucien Schweitzer, Luxembourg
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1994:
Paintings and Drawing in Indian Ink, Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City, Mexico (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1993:
Retrospective, The Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, China
First gallery exhibition in Hong Kong, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, China (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1992:
Works from 1980s, 1990s, Artcurial Gallery, Paris, France
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1990:
Retrospective, Musée des beaux-arts, Tours, France (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1988:
Retrospective show, Artcurial Gallery, Paris, France (solo exhibition)
Paintings and Drawing in Indian Ink, Galerie Krugier Diteschen, Geneva, Switzerland (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1987:
Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1986:
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, NY, USA (solo exhibition)
Galerie de France, Paris, France
Korea (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1984:
Krugier Gallery, Geneva, Switzerland (solo exhibition)
Presentation of 10 large works of Chinese ink on paper, Galerie de France, Paris, France (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1983:
Presentation of Collection of works, National Museum of History, Taiwan, China (solo exhibition)
Simultaneous exhibits at the National Museum of Beijing, China, and the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, China (solo exhibition)
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1982:
Hong Kong Arts Centre and National Museum of Modern Art, Singapore, Singapore
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1981:
Grand Palais, Paris, France
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1980:
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, NY, USA
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1977:
14 paintings on exhibit, Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1975:
Accrochage III, Musée national d'art moderne Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Large exhibition consisting of works produced over the previous two years, Galerie de France, Paris, France
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1958:
Kootz Gallery, New York, NY, USA
Galerie de France, Paris, France
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1954:
Retrospective exhibition of engraved works, Museum of Fine Arts, Cincinnati, OH
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1952:
Galerie Pierre, Paris, France
Exhibitions in Washington, D.C., Chicago, IL, New York, NY, Basel, Switzerland, Lausanne, Switzerland, and London, UK
Zao Wou-Ki Exhibitions in 1947:
Shanghai, China (solo exhibition)

Public Collections

Raffles City, Singapore
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Castagnola, Switzerland
The Tate Gallery, London, UK
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University, Boston, USA
Hirshorn Museum, Washington D.C., USA
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
The Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA
Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France
Folkwang Museu, Essen, Germany
Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong
Taiwan Museum of Art, Taichung, Taiwan
National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan
Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan
National Osaka Art Museum, Osaka, Japan