Renowned master painter Zao Wou-ki exhibit to open de Sarthe Fine Art

Renowned master painter Zao Wou-ki exhibit to open de Sarthe Fine Art

Pascal de Sarthe had to beg collectors to part with their Zao works for his gallery's debut in Hong Kong

zao wou ki at de sartheThe artist Zao Wou-ki with his work.

An exceptionally rare show of early works by the 90-year-old French-Chinese master painter Zao Wou-ki will open de Sarthe Fine Art, the latest blue-chip gallery to set up in Hong Kong.

Coming to Hong Kong was a natural choice, says Pascal de Sarthe, who founded his gallery in Paris in 1977, and later moved to the United States.

“We were constantly coming to Asia to meet our collectors and after a while, the jet lag became too much,” says de Sarthe. “Besides, we wanted to do something different. There’s so many contemporary galleries, which means there are less and less galleries that serve the secondary market, which is what we have done for so many years.”

De Sarthe also sees a broader public role for his gallery, especially in a city whose public art institutions are notoriously conservative.

“Except for the galleries, there aren’t enough places in Hong Kong to see art,” he says, explaining that he plans to hold a big show every two months or so, featuring major international artists “that you would normally see in a museum.”

How Zao freed himself

First up is the Zao exhibition, which features his paintings from the 1950s and 1960s.

“He’s one of the few Asian artists who kept his roots intact,” says de Sarthe. “Nowadays, we see so many artists who are doing the same thing as everyone in New York or elsewhere. It’s a shame because artists are a reflection of their culture. Even if we’re becoming more alike, Chinese people still don’t live the same way as Americans, and their work should reflect that.”

Zao is a unique cross-cultural figure. Born in Beijing in 1921, he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou before moving to Paris in 1948. His early work was heavily influenced by painters like Paul Klee and Othon Friesz, but he eventually shifted towards an abstract approach, especially after he spent time in New York, Hong Kong and Japan in 1958.

By the 1960s, Zao had developed his own, distinctive style, which often reflected an expressionist take on Chinese landscape painting.

“I wanted to have a selection of works from the 1950s and 60s because I want to show the transition between the influence the West had on him when he arrived in Paris as a young artist, and after his trip to New York, when he let go of his influences,” says de Sarthe. “He freed himself.”

Finding works for the show was difficult because virtually no Zao paintings from this early period are available on the market. “No one wants to part with a Zao,” says de Sarthe.

Months of meetings and phone calls with his clients helped persuade some of them to do just that, though.

“Now, standing here in front of them, I feel like a kid in a candy store,” he says.

Zao Wou-ki 1950s-1960s runs from March 18 to April 29. De Sarthe Fine Art, 8/F, Club Lusitano Building, 16 Ice House Street, Central, tel +852 2167 8896.

The de Sarthes.

Christopher DeWolf is a writer, photographer and self-styled flâneur.
Read more about Christopher DeWolf