France - China

Franco-Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki dies, aged 93


Franco-Chinese abstract painter Zao Wou-Ki has died aged 93. His death has intensified a legal battle between his wife and son.


Zao died at his home in Switzerland after suffering from Alzheimer's disease and being hospitalised twice since the end of March.

He was born in Beijing but left China before the Communist Party took over.

Zao had been a French citizen since 1964, having come to France in 1948 to seek out the artistic crowd in the Paris district of Montparnasse.

His work regularly sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of euros, its value recently rising due to sales in Hong Kong, as Chinese collectors discovered his art, which had previously been mainly bought in Europe.

In 2011 his wife, Françoise Marquet, a former curator at Paris’s Museum of Modern Art, moved her sickly husband to Dully, near Geneva, where she set up a Zao Wou-ki foundation.

The move sparked off a legal battle between Zao’s 66-year-old son by his first marriage, Jia-ling Zhao, accused Marquet of moving to Switzerland in order to control his inheritance including works that could be worth millions of euros.

Last month a court appointed two independent guardians to draw up an inventory of the artist’s possessions.

Zhao's lawyer, Jean-Philippe Hugot, said a decision had been taken on Tuesday, against the wishes of the artist's son but with his wife's consent, to interrupt Zao's treatment and allow him to die.

Born into an educated Beijing family, Zao learned to appreciate art from his grandfather, who practiced calligraphy.

He decided to become an oil painter and studied at the school of fine arts in Hangzhou from 1941 to 1947.

Having moved to Paris in 1948, he became acquainted with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and a friend of Pierre Soulages.

He eventually landing a job at the School of Fine Arts because of his expertise in traditional Chinese drawing techniques.

By the 1960s his art became more abstract and his reputation grew, with exhibitions in New York and other Western capitals and back in Beijing.

Paris hosted major retrospectives of his work in 1981 and 2003.

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