Culture minister laments Chinese painter’s death

MASTER::Zao Wou-ki was recognized as a representative figure of modern Western lyrical abstract painting and was the second Chinese to join the Academie des Beaux-Arts

Staff writer, with CNA

Fri, Apr 12, 2013 - Page 4

Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) has expressed condolences over the death of Zao Wou-ki (趙無極), a famous Chinese-French abstract painter.

Zao died at his home in Switzerland on Tuesday at the age of 93, family lawyer Jean-Philippe Hugot said.

“To me, Zao was a very big, bright star. His death marks the end of an era,” Lung said on Wednesday.

Lung said Zao differed from modern Chinese artists in that he was deeply rooted in Chinese culture.

Born in Beijing, Zao learned Chinese calligraphy as a child and studied art at the National College of Art in Hangzhou from 1935 to 1941.

He left China for Paris in 1948.

Lung said she adored Zao because he developed a unique painting style that combined modern Western aesthetics and traditional Chinese art.

“I never met Zao, but I learned of his fame in the art world a long time ago and admired his artistic accomplishments,” Lung said.

Zao, who gained French citizenship in 1964, was one of the most successful Chinese painters of his time.

His paintings were seen as symbolic of the essence of Oriental abstraction and some have sold for between US$1 million and US$2.5 million at auctions.

He was also recognized as one of the representative figures of modern Western lyrical abstract painting. He was a professor at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs.

In December 2002, Zao became the second Chinese to join the Academie des Beaux-Arts, after Chu Teh-chun (朱德群), another graduate of the National College of Art who eventually moved to France.

Zao had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease since 2005 and was hospitalized twice since the end of last month, Hugot said.

According to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report, Zao’s later years were marked by a family feud between his third wife, Francoise Marquet, and his son from a previous marriage, Zao Jia-ling (趙嘉陵).

Marquet, a former curator of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, moved the artist to Switzerland in 2011, saying it was the best environment for his health and for preserving his assets.

However, Zhao Jia-ling said the move was part of his stepmother’s efforts to control the artist’s inheritance.

The son last month won a legal battle in which two independent guardians were appointed to carry out an inventory of the artist’s possessions, according to AFP.