After the very beautiful homage delivered by Dominique de Villepin, allow me to add a few words in Chinese, as a tribute to our friend, Zao Wou-Ki, to his mother tongue, to the country where he came from and to its great civilization.
Wou-Ki spoke Chinese in a very soft, delicate and melodious way. He loved to use that language to recall his childhood, his teenage years and the path that made him, one day, decide to leave for France, this distant and unknown country.
By choosing, when he was only just 28, to come here to study and develop his talent, Wou-Ki was following the way opened by those great Chinese artists who also set out on this “trip to the West” : Xu Bei Hong, Lin Fengmian, Liu Haisu, Wu Guanzhong.
In less than a year, his first works attracted attention, the world of art then realized that he was going to be, that he already was, a very great painter. Here, he marked out his own track. He has his value acknowledged. And he also found happiness.
Wou-Ki loved France, its culture, its language, which he spoke with elegance, subtlety and humour. A language he used so well to talk about friendship. But his real language was art, it was painting, the universal language that all those who love beauty understand.
This language was within him since that day he was born. And he knew how to speak it till the end. I remember the day when, learning that he had been taken to hospital, we rushed to his bedside, to be with Françoise who sat up with him. After a difficult night, Wou-Ki was asleep. But his hand was up in the air, moving as if he were holding a brush, his hand was sketching out lines. Wou-Ki was painting. I think about all the canvases he painted in a dream, all the canvases we will never see.
In 1964, as I was preparing to leave for China, Jacques Rigaud, who had been my senior lecturer, offered me my first book representing Wou-Ki’s paintings. With the book came a card where he wrote: “For me, Zao Wou-Ki is one of the very great artists of our time. No use to wonder whether he is French or Chinese.
In his painting, the West and the East meet, combine and enrich each other”.
It was the time when Wou-Ki was evolving towards abstraction. It was the very moment when his genius was fully expanding.
We all know how many masterpieces he gave us during the fifty years that followed and the power and fullness he reached in his art.
France paid him the highest homages, dedicated to him exceptional exhibitions and retrospectives, welcomed him at the Academy of Fine Arts, made him Grand Cross of the Legion d’Honneur.
China also honoured him and celebrated sumptuously its son who went away and whose work is nowadays, in his native country, studied and revered.
For both our countries, Zao Wou-Ki is a symbol. For all, he was a master. For me, like for many among you, he was a friend.
To talk to him, to spend time with him was a rare pleasure, a real bliss.
Dear Wou-Ki, how could we forget all these moments?
I remember an evening we spent together in Beijing with IM Pei, Jackie Kennedy, Marc Riboud after the opening of the beautiful hotel conceived by IM Pei in the Scented Hills, for which you had created a series of wonderful inks.
I remember this conversation that went on till late in the night at the Embassy with Pierre Soulages and a few other friends. We were talking about Joan Mitchell Who had just died.
I remember these walks in the woods in Berlin, where you were walking, Françoise and yourself, like two young lovers.
And I remember all the evenings spent in your home when, after dinner, while talking, we were looking at the cats jumping from one armchair to the other. Your eyes were laughing …
Thank you Wou-Ki for the instants spent, the pleasures shared and the immense happiness you gave us.