Zao Wou-ki was born in Beijing in 1920. In 1935 he enrols at the School of Fine Art in Hangzhou where he will be influenced by the works of Renoir, Cézanne and Matisse. On completing his studies, in 1941, Zao Wou-ki is appointed reader and teacher at the same School of Fine Art, a post that he will hold for six years. In 1948, Zao Wou-ki moves to Paris and makes acquaintance with Sam Francis, Soulages and Giacometti. The Creuze Gallery holds his first exhibition in 1949 (Bernard Dorival writes the catalogue foreword). In 1950, Henri Michaux writes a volume of poems on the first lithographs of the artist called “Lecture de 8 lithographies de Zao Wou-ki” (Reading of Zao Wou-ki’s lithographs) and presents it to Pierre Loeb, the art dealer. Zao Wou-ki presents an exhibition for the first time at Salon de Mai in the same year. While travelling to Berne in 1952, Zao Wou-ki discovers the paintings of Paul Klee, which will be an important moment in his evolution as a painter, he now turns to abstract painting. In the 50s, several galleries hold exhibitions of Zao Wou-ki’s works, i.e. the Gallery Klipstein in Berne, the Gallery La Hune in Paris, the Gallery Krootz in New-York or the Gallery de France in Paris, with which the artist will collaborate all his life.
In 1962, Zao Wou-ki is commissioned to illustrate “La tentation de l’Occident” by André Malraux with 10 original lithographs in colour. Malraux grants Zao Wou-ki French citizenship two years later. The estampe (stamping) has a significant place in the artist's oeuvre who will go on to make close to 400 stampings - lithographs or engraving on stone - that are published in a book: Zao Wou-ki illustrates several works: “Les compagnons dans le jardin” by Henri Michaux, “Les terrasses de Jade” by Hubert Juin, “Illuminations” by Rimbaud, “La peau des choses” by Michel Ragon, “Canto Pisan” by Ezra Pound, “L’Etang” by Jean Lescure” or even “Randonnées” by Roger Caillois. In 1973, Zao Wou-ki is made Knight de la Légion d’Honneur and in the same year the artist returns to China, after 25 years of absence. In 1993, Zao Wou-ki is pronounced Commander de la Légion d’Honneur and two years later, the artist is awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Art. Several exhibitions around the world are dedicated to the artist’s work and are on display in the biggest museums in the world and especially in some of the largest collections.