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An engraved legacy

Deng Zhangyu
Updated: Jan 26,2016 11:17 AM     China Daily

Engravings by Zao Wou-ki will be exhibited in the artist’s hometown, Nantong, Jiangsu province. The late artist’s engravings are titled with the years when they were completed, such as the three paintings pictured above (from left)-1974, 1987 and 1969.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Two years after the death of Zao Wou-ki at his home in Switzerland, a show of his engravings is finally coming to Nantong in East China’s Jiangsu province, where he was raised. While he was still alive, the Chinese-born artist had wanted the show to be held simultaneously in Paris and Nantong in 2012, but that remained an idea until more recent times.

Zao (1920-2013) was a leading light of postwar art in France, where he spent years of his life before moving to Switzerland.

Engravings by Zao Wou-ki will be exhibited in the artist’s hometown, Nantong, Jiangsu province. The late artist’s engravings are titled with the years when they were completed, such as the three paintings pictured above (from left)-1974, 1987 and 1969.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Born in Beijing, he was among the world’s top-selling artists of Chinese descent with each piece of his work fetching millions of dollars at auction houses even today.

Zao’s show will be unveiled on Jan 28 at Nantong Museum and will display 67 lithographs, six copperplate etchings and seven books of illustrations. It will run through May 25.

It is the first solo show in China of his works since his death.

Engravings by Zao Wou-ki will be exhibited in the artist’s hometown, Nantong, Jiangsu province. The late artist’s engravings are titled with the years when they were completed, such as the three paintings pictured above (from left)-1974, 1987 and 1969.[Photo provided to China Daily]

The master’s wife, Francoise Marquet, who is also president of Zao Wou-ki Foundation, described the engravings’ show as “very special” in a written preface.

The show’s curator, Peng Chunmei, says: “For four years, we have been making efforts to bring the show to Nantong. It is a good attempt to display his canvas in China.”

Zao’s parents moved from Beijing to Nantong-a city that is 90 minutes by road from Shanghai-when he was an infant. He studied Chinese calligraphy until age 14 and then left for neighboring Hangzhou to start training in oil painting. He emerged as an exceptional artist who merged Chinese and European aesthetics in his works.

Zao Wou-ki (1920-2013).[Photo provided to China Daily]

His abstract oil paintings, rich in the use of color, light and shadows, are widely bought by museums and private collectors across the world.

He also started creating engravings in 1949 after he moved to Paris, where he stayed for long and made friends with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. He produced more than 400 lithographs and etchings during his lifetime.

The display at Nantong Museum will be representative of his engravings made from 1949 to 2000. Like his oil paintings, his engravings are titled with the dates on which they were completed. Their contents are consistent with his style of relentlessly wedding elements of modern Western art and Chinese artistic traditions.

Among more than 160 solo exhibitions held around the world during Zao’s lifetime, only a few were organized in China.

Before he moved to France in 1948, he held two shows in Chongqing and Shanghai. In 1998 and 1999, his retrospective shows featuring 105 canvases were held in Shanghai Museum and National Art Museum of China in Beijing. In 2008, his exhibition of engravings and illustrations was held at Suzhou Museum.

Yin Fu, a former director of China Culture Center in Paris, says he paid Zao many visits in Paris to discuss the upcoming Nantong show when it was being planned in 2012.

“Every time I met him in his sitting room, Mr Zao had a drawing board on his desk even at age 92,” recalls Yin, adding that the show was delayed because of Zao’s poor health.

Peng, the show’s curator, says Zao’s wife was reached to establish a trust between the family and the Nantong Museum.

“At first Marquet was cautious. But she was touched by our sincerity and also wanted to realize Zao’s unfulfilled wish of holding a show in his hometown,” says Peng.

Marquet manages the foundation that works to promote Zao’s art. The foundation, which was established in Geneva in 2012, donated 38 works on Wednesday, including Zao’s original pieces and from his collections of Chinese art, to Musee Cernuschi, a museum for Asian art in Paris. Earlier, another 90 works of artists such as Picasso, Paul Lee and Alberto Giacometti Zao had collected during his lifetime, were donated to a museum in central France by the foundation.

Some of the engravings to be shown in Nantong were donated by the couple in 2008 to Suzhou Museum when Zao’s last show during his lifetime was held in the country.

If you go

9 am-5 pm, Jan 28-May 25, daily except Mondays. Nantong Museum, 19 Haonan Road, Chongchuan district, Nantong, Jiangsu province. 0513-8506-2505.

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