Zao Wou-Ki: China’s Highest-Selling Living Artist

At The Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia, Jason Chow profiles abstract painter Zao Wou-ki, China’s highest-selling living artist, whose auction sales last year reached $90 million. Despite his long career, Zao’s leisurely working pace and retirement three years ago have left relatively few paintings for eager Chinese and Taiwanese collectors to chase.

Mr. Zao was born in Beijing in 1920. Encouraged by his father, an amateur artist, he began studying traditional ink painting and calligraphy as a teenager. At 15, he enrolled in an arts school in Hangzhou, where he met his first wife Lan Xiejing, a fellow artist who went by the name Lalan. Mr. Zao finished his training at the school, which moved to Chongqing in 1938 to escape the Japanese invasion, and after graduation, became a teacher at the institution.

But he pined for Europe, and with his family’s blessing, he and Ms. Lan moved to Paris in 1948. After a 34-day voyage from Shanghai, he made it to the French capital, dropped their bags at a hotel, and went straight to the Louvre museum that afternoon, according to a biographical essay by French art historian Jacque Leymarie.

[…] Last year, prices for his work reached a new high when Sotheby’s sold his painting, “10.6.68,” for $8.8 million. “Zao is the first 20th-century Chinese artist with an international reputation,” said Sylvie Chen, a modern Chinese art expert at Sotheby’s. “We do predict prices to rise. There’s very limited supply.”

Scene Asia also has a slideshow of Zao’s work. See also a 2009 profile of Zao at The New York Times, via CDT.


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