Zao Wou-Ki

1920, Beijing China - 2013 Switzerland


For Director Alice King, Zao Wou-ki belongs to what she identifies as the “Lost Generation”, which includes the generation of Chinese artists who went abroad in the 1940s to study and often permanently settled in their adopted countries. Many of these artists struggled to make a name for themselves in the West and, as suggested by a letter King wrote to Zao in 1982, were fairly unheard of in the East. Born in 1920 in Beijing, Zao began living in Paris in 1948. A student of Lin Fengmian, a pioneer of modern Chinese painting, Zao studied at the Hangzhou National College of Art before he left for Paris. While drawing from his Chinese roots, he became an exponent of Lyrical Abstraction in oil painting after becoming inspired by Western artists, in particular, Paul Klee. He passed away in 2013.

The gallery began showing Zao’s works in 1983, before he was well-known in Asia, as part of a group exhibition Contemporary European Artists, and since then has held five solo exhibitions for Zao. The gallery held his very first selling exhibition in Hong Kong in 1993, in conjunction with the first Le French May Festival, featuring works in Chinese ink on paper and oil on canvas. This was followed by a solo exhibition in 1996. Although oil painting was to become Zao Wou-ki’s primary medium and the source of his worldwide renown, he also experimented in printmaking, Chinese ink painting and watercolours. In 2003, the gallery showcased a series of Zao’s rare early oil paintings and watercolours, the same year an important retrospective was held for him at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris. Then in 2009, Alisan organised Celebrating Zao Wou-ki, which included a collection of Zao’s oil paintings, watercolours, lithographs, etchings, and ink works, executed between 1949 and 1994, providing an overview of Zao Wou-ki’s artistic development from the early poetic figurative work to the later meditative abstract compositions.

Important exhibitions of Zao’s works have been held at the Grand Palais in 1981, National Art Museum of China, Beijing in 1983, with retrospectives at Taipei Fine Arts Museum in 1993, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts in 1995, Hong Kong Museum of Art in 1996, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris between 2003-04, and City of Paris Museum of Modern Art in 2018-19. His works have been widely collected by important museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Tate, London; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; National Museum of Art Osaka; Hong Kong Museum of Art, M+. In 1993 he was awarded the Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur, and in 2006 he was made Grand Officier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur.


1920    Born in Beijing into the ancient T’chao family with a family tree dating back to the Sung dynasty. (T’chao became Zao when he moved to France.) Their ancestor was the Emperor’s brother, who was known as King Swallow and Nightingale. One of the family treasures was a painting by Mi Fei (1051-1107) whom Zao regards as one of the greatest Chinese painters because he had “his own way of looking at things and [was] a great calligrapher.”
1931    Showed a keen interest in literature and history at school and started to draw and paint
1935    Studied at National College of Art, Hangzhou (currently the China Academy of Art) for six years
1941    Lecturer at China Academy of Art after gradution
First exhibition in Chongqing, China. The works were strongly influenced by Matisse and Picasso, but it was Cezanne and Matisse who were, he says, closest to his temperament and from whom he developed his approach to painting
1948    Moved to Paris with his wife Lan-Lan. On the day of his arrival, he spent the afternoon in the Louvre
His cosmopolitan group of new friends included American artists Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell; German painter Hans Hartung; French painter Pierre Soulages
1949    Won the first prize in a drawing competition
1951    Visited Switzerland on the occasion of an exhibition of his engravings and there discovered the work of Paul Klee who was inspired by Chinese art. This event was to have a very important and lasting effect on Zao
1953    Over the next two years an incredible change took place in the paintings of Zao. He later commented, “My painting became illegible. Still, life and flowers were no longer there. I was tending towards imaginary, indecipherable writing.”
1957-58    Travelled to New York to visit his brother; met the art dealer Samuel Kootz and signed a contract to exhibit with him; met several artists who were to become his close friends, including Guston, Baziotes, Franz Kline, and Hans Hoffman; attracted to the freshness and spontaneity of American painting and the New York School
1962    Commissioned to illustrate La Tentation de l’Occident by the French Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux, who two years later would help him to get his French citizenship
Continued to work on engravings in 1965, 1966, 1967, 1971, 1974 and 1975
1964    Granted French citizenship
1970    Led a seminar organised by the artist Oskar Kokoschka, on the occasion of the Salzburg music festival in Austria
1971    His second wife May became very ill, and he stopped painting
1972    May died in early March and later that month Zao left France to visit his mother in China, his mother that he had not seen since his departure in 1948 
1973-1975    Began painting again and returned to use large formats for his work
1976    Met Françoise Marquet, whom he married the following year 
1977    Travelled to Rome with wife Françoise Marquet and visited the exhibition of Nicolas Poussin. Zao spent many hours sitting in front of the Poussin paintings
1978    Later went to Madrid for a show honouring Joan Miro, his long-time friend
1982    In October 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
1983    Visited master Zhang Daqian during a trip to Taiwan
1984    Awarded the Legion d’honneur by The French Ministry of Culture 
1985    Went to Hangzhou, China and taught classes on painting and modern art, and his wife, Françoise Marquet taught museology
1993    Promoted by the President of the French Republic to Commandeur de la Legion d’honneur
1994    Travelled to Japan to be awarded the Imperial Prize (fine arts)
2003    Received at the French Académie des Beaux Arts on 26th November
2006    Awarded the Grand Officier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur, and decorated by the French President Jacques Chirac at the Palais de l’Elysée on 3rd November 
2008    Decided to stop working with oil paints
Made his last watercolors in the spring
The triptych Hommage à Claude Monet (1991) was presented in the Pavillon France at the World Fair in Shanghai, together with a selection of masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay
The inauguration of the 14 stained-glass windows created by Zao Wou-Ki for the dining hall of the Prieuré de Saint-Cosme, near Tours, France
2011    Settled in Dully, Switzerland with Françoise
2013    Passed away in Switzerland

  • The Way is Infinite: Centennial Retrospective Exhibition of Zao Wou-Ki, Art Museum of China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China
  • Zao Wou-Ki: It never gets dark, Hôtel de Caumont Art Centre, Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Zao Wou-Ki Collector, Pully Museum of Art, Pully, Swtzerland
  • Zao Wou-Ki: Works in Private Hands, A Selection of Paintings, Inks and Watercolors on Paper, Hospice Saint Roch Museum, Issoudun, France
  • Zao Wou-ki Space is Silence, City of Paris Museum of Modern Art, Paris, France
  • Infinities of Zao Wou-ki, Asia University Museum of Modern Art, Taichung, Taiwan
  • No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki, Asia Society, New York; Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, USA
  • Exhibition of Prints and Illustrated Books, Nantong Museum, Nantong, China
  • Retrospective, Pierre Gianadda Foundation, Martigny, Switzerland
  • Zao Wou-Ki: Prints & Paintings, Chinese Cultural Centre, Paris, France

  • Retrospective, Pinacoteca Comunale, Locarno, Switzerland

  • Recent Watercolour, Rouen Museum of Fine Arts, Rouen, France

  • Zao Wou-Ki: Works of Paper and Ceramics (1947-2007), Castle-Museum of Nemours, Nemours, France
  • Retrospective, National Library of France, Paris, France
  • Retrospective, Bellevue Convention & Exhibition Centre, Biarritz, France
  • Retrospective, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan
  • Retrospective, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dunkerque, Dunkerque, France
  • Retrospective, Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France
  • Zao Wou-Ki, First major retrospective in France, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France
  • Retrospective, Centre Julio Gonzalez, IVAM, Valencia, Spain
  • Retrospective, Museum of Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium
  • Recent Inks, Institut Français, Barcelona, Spain
  • Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • Over 20 solo exhibition in different galleries & institutions, Belgium; Finland; France; Portugal; Spain; Taiwan;  USA
  • Zao Wou-Ki Works in Ink 1953-1999, Writing Room, Champollion Museum, Figeac, France
  • Zao Wou-ki 60 Years of Painting Retrospective Exhibition, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai; National Art  Museum of China, Beijing; Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China
  • Zao Wou-Ki Paintings, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Angers, Belgium
  • Galerie Thessa Herold, Paris, France (exhibited until 2000)
  • Retrospective, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  • Infinite Image and Space: A Retrospective of Zao Wou-Ki, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong
  • Zao Wou-Ki, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong
  • Retrospective, Saragosse Convention & Exhibition Centre, Saragosse, Spain
  • Zao Wou-Ki Painitngs 1962-1993, Maison de la Culture, Nevers, France
  • Works by Zao Wou-Ki, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan
  • Retrospective: Paintings and Drawings in Indian Ink, Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City, Mexico
  • Zao Wou-Ki Private Collection 1955-1989 Oil Painitngs, Vasarely Foundation, Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Retrospective, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours, France
  • Close to 40 solo exhibitions in different galleries & institutions, Belgium; France; Germany; Luxembourg; Morocco; Portugal; Switzerland; Taiwan; USA
  • Retrospective: 40th Anniversary of Arrival in France, Artcurial Gallery, Paris, France (exhibited until 1992)
  • Recent Works, Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo, Japan, ten years after they first presented the artist
  • Presentation of his largest triptych ever made, Galerie de France, Paris, France; painting commissioned by Raffles City, Singapore, a shopping complex built by I.M. Pei
  • Jan Krugier Gallery, Geneva, Switzerland (exhibited until 1998)
  • Retrospective, Taipei Museum of History, Taipei; Tainan Municipal Cultural Center, Tainan; Taichung Public Library, Taichung, Taiwan
  • First time to exhibit in China since 1948, invited by Ministry of Chinese Culture, National Art Museum of China, Beijing; China Academy of Art, Hangzou, China
  • Travelling Retrospective, First solo exhibition in a French museum, Grand Palais, Paris, France; then travelled to Fukuoka City Museum, Fukuoka; Nihonbashi Gallery of Art, Tokyo; Fukui Prefectural Museum, Katsuyama; National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, Japan; Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong; National Museum of Modern Art, Singapore
  • Zao Wou-Ki Large Paintings, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi, France
  • Zao Wou-Ki Paintings & Drawings 1976-1980, Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, USA
  • Exhibited over 30 solo exhibition at different galleries and institutions, France; Greece; Italy; Luxembourg, Netherlands; Norway; Sweden; Switzerland; Taiwan; USA
  • Exhibited 80 lithographies & etchings, Donation to National Library of France, National Library of France, Paris, France
  • Exhibited 14 large paintings, Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • Exhibited over 40 solo exhibitions at galleries around the world, Austria; Belgium; Denmark; France; Germany; Luxembourg; Netherlands; Portugal; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland
  • Retrospective, Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Montréal, Canada
  • Retrospective, Musée du Québec, Québec, Canada
  • Painitngs, Engravings & Lithographies, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
  • Retrospective, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany
  • Retrospective, Hayden Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  • First solo exhibition in Japan, Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • Exhibited around 30 solo exhibitions at different galleries, Austria; Belgium; France; Germany; Italy; Norway; Spain; UK; USA
  • Kootz Gallery, New York, USA (exhibited regulary until 1965)
  • Galerie de France, Paris, France (exhibited regulary until 1986)
  • Retrospective of Prints, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, USA
  • Galerie Pierre, Paris, France (exhibited regulary until 1955)
  • Exhibited in numerous galleries in Washington, Chicago, New York, USA; Basel, Lausanne, Switzerland; London, UK
  • First solo exhibiition in Paris, Galerie Creuze, Paris, France
  • Ta-Hsin Department Store, Shanghai, China
  • Chongqing, China

  • Shanshui: Echoes and Signals, M+, Hong Kong

  • The Evolutionary Trace of the Modern and Contemporary Chinese Ink Painting, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China

  • Ink in Motion: A History of Chinese Painting in the 20th Century, Cernuschi Museum, Paris, France

  • Being, Zhi Art Museum, Chengdu, China

  • Midcentury Abstraction: A Closer Look, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USA

  • Chasing the Horizon: 1952-2022 Ancient, Impressionist and Contemporary Art, Artizon Museum, Tokyo, Japan
  • Individuals, Networks, Expressions, South Galleries, M+, Hong Kong

  • Slip Zone: A New Look at Postwar Abstraction in the Americas and East Asia, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, USA
  • Museum Collection of Modern and Contemporary, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
  • NOT A Fashion Store!, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong

  • Collection of Abstract Paintings, Museum of Art, History and Archaeology in Evreux, Normandy, France
  • Steps Ahead: Recent Acquisitions, Artizon Museum, Tokyo, Japan
  • Exhibition of Modern and Contemporaneous Collections, National Museum of History and Art in Luxemburg, Luxembourg
  • Extra Large: Tapestries from Picasso and Le Corbusier to Louise Bourgeois, Kunsthal of Rotterdam, The Netherlands

  • Inaugural Exhibition, He Art Museum, Shunde, China

  • The Shape of Time: Highlights of the Centre Pompidou Collection, West Bund Museum, Shanghai, China

  • Reynold Arnould and the New Museum at Le Havre (1952-1965), Museum André Malraux, Le Havre, France

  • Modern Life: A New Presentation of the Collections, City of Paris Museum of Modern Art, Paris, France
  • Atlas: The Cartography of Donation, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Exhibition of New Collection of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA
  • Exhibition of New Collections of National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
  • Hong Kong Experience • Hong Kong Experiment, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong

  • Crossroads: Carnegie Museum of Art’s Collection, 1945 to Now, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, USA
  • Open Ended: Painting and Sculpture, 1900 to Now, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
  • Zao Wou-Ki – Richard Texier, Prints, Ernest Cognacq Museum, Saint-Martin-de-Ré, France
  • Works from Zao Wou-Ki’s Collection: Lithographs from the Pons Studio, Hospice Saint-Roch Museum, Issoudun, France
  • Inaugural Exhibition, Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum, Abu Dhabi
  • Art Turns World Turns: Exploring the Museum Collection, Inaugural Exhibition, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara, Jakarta, Indonesia

  • Stories from Artists and Their Studios: From Courbet to Soulages, Courbet Museum, Ornans, France

  • Georges Pompidou and Art: An Adventure for the Eyes, Château of Chambord, Centre-Val de Loire, France
  • From China to Taiwan: Pioneers of Abstraction (1955-1985), Museum of Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium

  • Tokyo/Paris: Collection of Ishibashi Foundation & Bridgestone Museum of Art in Tokyo, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, France

  • The Movement and the Matter: the "Other" Abstraction (Paris, 1945-1965), Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
  • Exhibition of Recent Acquisitions, Cernuschi Museum, Paris, France

  • Hong Kong International Arts & Antiques Fair, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Centre, Hong Kong
  • 3rd Shanghai Ink Biennial, Exploration: New Ink Art Shanghai, Zhu Qizhan Art Museum, Shanghai, China
  • Exhibition Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Hong Kong’s Return to China 2007, Central Library, Hong Kong
  • Art & Imitation in China, University Museum and Art Gallery, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • Black & White Dream, Reopening of the Museum, Suzhou Museum, China
  • The Lyrical Flight, Paris 1945–1956Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, France
  • French Diaspora, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong
  • China: The Glory of the Emperors, Petit Palais, Paris, France
  • Maitres de l’Encre: Chang Dai-Chien, T’ang Haywen, Zao Wou-ki, Musée de Pontoise, Paris, France


  • Figures of the Abstract: Major Current Contemporary Art, Cultural Center of Benedictine Palace, Fécamp, France
  • 2nd International Ink-Wash Painting Exhibition, Shenzhen Fine Art Institute, Shenzhen, China


  • Arthur Rimbaud and 20th Century Artists, Cantini Museum, Marseille, France
  • China-Paris: Seven Chinese Painters who Studied in France 1918-1960, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Lithograohs, Etchings and Serigraphs by Contemporary European Artists, Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong
  • The Chinese Response: Paintings by Leading Overseas Artists, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong
  • European Trends in Modern Art 1950-1980: 100 Paintings, Pierre Cardin Gallery, New York, USA
  • The Century of Modern Masters in American and Europe: Tyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
  • FIAC, Paris, France (Also exhibited in 1985, 86, 88)
  • Exhibition of Contemporary Art, National Museum of Modern Art, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
  • 60 Years of Abstract, House of Culture André Malraux, Reims, France


  • Contemporary Prints by Chinese Artists, Hong Kong City Museum and Art Gallery, City Hall, Hong Kong
  • Potential Forms, Mercedes-Benz Foundation, Paris, France
  • Contemporary Art: Dialogue between East and West, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
  • From Cezanne to Picasso, Musée de l'Athénée, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Contributed to the French section of the World Fair in Montréal, Canada
  • Contemporary Prints & Lacourière-Frélaut Studio, Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes, Rennes, France

  • French Paintings: Venice Biennial, Venice, Italy
  • 2nd International Biennial, Tokyo, Japan


  • National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
  • 3rd Sâo Paulo Biennial, Sâo Paulo, Brazil
  • Pittsburgh InternationalCarnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, USA (Also exhibited in 1958,61,64,67)
  • Painters of Today, Turin Biennial, Turin, Italy (Also exhibited in 1957, 61)
  • Young Painters: An Exhibition of Paintings of the École de Paris, Scottish Arts Council, Edinburgh, UK
  • The May Salon, Paris, France (exhibited until 1968)
  • Zao Wou-Ki/Michaux, Flocon/Bachelard, La Hune, Paris, France


  • Information Office of China Government, Paris, France
  • Contemporary Chinese Painting, Cernuschi Museum, Paris, France
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA 
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, USA 
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA
Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University, Boston, USA
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USA
Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, USA
Stanford University, Stanford, USA
Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., USA
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, USA
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Canada
Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, Brzail
Tate, London, UK
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
City of Paris Museum of Modern Art, France
National Museum of Modern Art, Paris, France
Cernuschi Museum, Paris, France
Louvre Museum, Paris, France
National Library of France, Paris, France
General Council of Indre-et-Loire, La Riche, Tours, France
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium
Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland
Geneva Museum of Art and History, Foundation Gérald Cramer, Geneva, Switzerland
Kunsthal Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Museum of Modern Art, Milan, Italy
Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland
National Museum of History and Art, Luxembourg
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Modern Art Centre, Lisbonne, Portugal
Miro Foundation, Barcelone, Spain

Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
Artizon Museum, Ishibashi Foundation, Tokyo, Japan
National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan
Raffles City, Singapore
Jakarta Museum, Jakarta, Indonesia
Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, China
China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China

Suzhou Museum, Suzhou, China
He Art Museum, Shunde, China

Taiwan Museum of Art, Taichung, Taiwan
Taipei Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong
M+, Hong Kong