tang haywen - portrait

T’ang Haywen


T’ang Haywen was a Chinese-born painter who lived and worked in Paris. He belongs to the second generation of Chinese artists who emigrated to France after the Second World War, which included Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki. Both calligraphy and the principles of Taoism played a role in shaping T’ang’s art.


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tang haywen - paper untitled 1985

Untitled – c. 1985

Ink on paper
70 x 100 cm / 27.6 x 39.4 in.
Signed on the right panel

Certificate of authenticity by M. Philippe Koutouzis
This artwork is registered in T’ang Haywen’s Catalogue raisonné

tang haywen - paper ink untitled 1985

Untitled – c. 1985

Ink on paper
70 x 100 cm / 27.6 x 39.4 in.

Certificate of authenticity by M. Philippe Koutouzis
This artwork is registered in T’ang Haywen’s Catalogue raisonné

tang haywen - paper untitled 1985 ink

Untitled – c. 1985

Ink on paper
70 x 100 cm / 27.6 x 39.4 in.

Certificate of authenticity by M. Philippe Koutouzis
This artwork is registered in T’ang Haywen’s Catalogue raisonné

tang haywen - untitled 1985 ink

Untitled – c. 1985

Ink on paper
70 x 100 cm / 27.6 x 39.4 in.
Signed on the right panel

Certificate of authenticity by M. Philippe Koutouzis
This artwork is registered in T’ang Haywen’s Catalogue raisonné

tang haywen - untitled paper 1985

Untitled – c. 1985

Ink on paper
70 x 100 cm / 27.6 x 39.4 in.

Certificate of authenticity by M. Philippe Koutouzis
This artwork is registered in T’ang Haywen’s Catalogue raisonné

tang haywen - paper untitled


Ink on paper
70 x 50 cm / 27.6 x 19.2 in.
Signed lower left


T’ang Haywen’s early life and artistic training

T’ang Haywen (born as Zeng Tianfu) was born in Xiamen in China’s Fujian Province on 20 December 1927. T’ang Haywen moved to the city now known as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam at the age of 10 years old.

Like his contemporaries, the painters Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki, T’ang Haywen travelled to France to pursue his ambition to train as an artist. In contrast to Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki, who studied at the Hangzhou Academy of Art (now the China Academy of Art), T’ang Haywen did not receive any formal artistic training. It was, rather, his knowledge and understanding of calligraphy and Taoism, instilled by his grandfather, that informed his intellectual and artistic development.

The Chinese painter T’ang Haywen in Paris

T’ang Haywen moved to France in 1948, ostensibly to study medicine in keeping with his family’s wishes. However, he abandoned his medical studies, taking classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière instead and studying the works of Gauguin, Cézanne and Matisse in the museums of Paris. In his early works, T’ang Haywen explored a variety of themes, including interior design, portraits, self-portraits, still lifes and views of Paris.

His fascination with Shi Tao—the 17th century individualist painter—greatly influenced his work. Writing to his brother in 1958, T’ang said: “I have found my vocation in painting… something I didn’t think would please our parents… it is a very serious matter, in which there can be no question, honestly, of seeking success for its own sake… In order to be genuine, success must be completely sincere. Once a painter has found himself, then and only then can he work for others, which he must do, but not before … I cannot and nor would I wish to abandon this vocation.”

T’ang Haywen’s inks

In the early 1960s, T’ang Haywen demonstrated a preference for ink on paper, gouache and watercolour. The painter defined an original and personal pictorial space using standard-sized sheets of cardboard. First working in 29.7 x 21 cm and 70 x 50 cm formats, he then went on double these formats to create diptychs. The 70 x 100 cm format is one of the most common formats in T’ang Haywen’s work.

The Chinese painter T’ang Haywen’s sources of inspiration

In 1964, T’ang Haywen painted his Hommage à Cézanne on a 70 x 50 cm sheet of paper. In the piece, he revisited the composition of Cézanne’s Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses).

During the period from 1960 to 1965, T’ang Haywen painted a series of very small oil paintings, most of which were created on a canvas of newsprint. While oil was the preferred medium of Western artists, T’ang Haywen’s use of newsprint revealed his modest living conditions as an artist.

In 1968, T’ang Haywen painted a large diptych of a group of three naked women with dark hair and skin, inspired by Gauguin. The piece was reminiscent of Gauguin’s greatest work: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? The Chinese painter inscribed the back of the piece with the words: “D’où venons-nous ?” [“Where do we come from?”]

T’ang Haywen & the cinema

In the early 1970s, T’ang Haywen was invited to India to visit Goa by the Maharani of Porbandar. On the beach in Goa, he made the acquaintance of the filmmaker Tom Tam and his partner Martha Sandler. T’ang Haywen appeared with Martha in the psychedelic short film Furen Boogie. In 1973, Tom Tam and T’ang Haywen shot T’ang Boogie—probably the first art film by a modern Chinese artist—in his little Parisian apartment on Rue Liancourt.

The Chinese painter T’ang Haywen’s exhibitions around the world

In the 1970s and 1980s, T’ang Haywen continued to travel, his trips and exhibitions advancing hand in hand. In 1975, the curator Mary Tregear presented T’ang Haywen’s ink paintings at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. His works were also exhibited on several occasions at Nane Stern’s gallery in Paris and other galleries in Switzerland, Italy and Germany. On the recommendation of a friend, T’ang Haywen met the renowned collector Dominique de Ménil in the United States, who acquired one of his diptychs.

Chinese painting and calligraphy use the same materials: round brushes on paper or silk, with ink and water. Although some consider the works of these genres abstract by nature, the Chinese artists Zao Wou KI, Chu Teh Chun and T’ang Haywen never thought of themselves as abstract painters. In 1972, T’ang Haywen wrote: “There is no doubt that the play of abstraction can briefly inspire people’s thoughts in an instant, but when it comes to deciphering and understanding the past, there is no further flourishing of sensibility, numbers are dead and even memories disappear. Our profound sensibility, related to the unconscious, can only develop and grow when nourished by the tangible, that is to say, as far as painting is concerned, by the recollection in our conscious memory of profound and lasting sensitive experiences that we have had in the real world. It is on the basis of a certain, and more or less preponderant, material figurative representation that painting can develop and renew itself without losing itself, and expand into the realms of emotion and spirituality…”

At the beginning of the 1980s, T’ang Haywen continued to produce diptychs in a variety of formats, also creating small triptychs in ink and colour and numerous small watercolours. Living more simply, his spiritual journey brought him closer to a group of friends, including the gallery owner Nane Stern. It was during this period that T’ang Haywen travelled to Fontgombault Abbey. He then converted to Catholicism and was baptised in 1984 and given the Christian name François, which means “free man”.

In 1983 and 1984, thanks to his friend Dominique Ponnau, T’ang Haywen exhibited at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Quimper in Brittany and then at the Musée du Château de Vitré. His large diptychs were painted on sheets of cardboard produced from wood fibres. With some of his friends encouraging him to choose a more refined medium, T’ang Haywen began to paint on Arches paper—produced from cotton fibres and known for its durability.

T’ang Haywen continued to travel, exhibiting his paintings in France and abroad. His last major trip took him to Georgia, but his health was deteriorating. Suffering from AIDS, T’ang Haywen died in Paris on 9 September 1991.

Posthumous recognition of the Chinese painter T’ang Haywen

Towards the end of the 1990s, T’ang Haywen’s work began to draw the attention of much wider audiences. Several important exhibitions—in particular those at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan, the Musée Guimet in Paris and the Shiseido Foundation in Tokyo—demonstrated the importance and original nature of his work.

© Diane de Polignac Gallery
Translation: Lucy Johnston

tang haywen - photographie dans son atelier

©T’ang Haywen, photo by Yonfan Manshih, 1991

Selected collections

Selected collections

Brive, Musée de Brive

Chambéry, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Chicago, IL, Art Institute of Chicago

Hong Kong, M+ Museum,

Houston, TX, The Menil Collection

Nice, Fonds de la Direction des Musées de la Ville de Nice

Nice, Musée d’Art oderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC)

Paris, Musée d’Art moderne de Paris

Paris, Musée Guimet (Musée national des arts asiatiques)

Paris, Cernuschi Museum

Pontoise, Musée de Pontoise

Quimper, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Sables d’Olonne, Musée de l’Abbaye de Sainte Croix

Vitré, Musée de Vitré

Washington DC, National Academy of Sciences

Selected exhibitions

Selected exhibtions

Galerie Voyelles, Paris, 1955

Galerie Belvédère, Hergiswil am See, Lucerne, 1956, 1968

Galerie Belles Images, Rabat, 1958

École des Beaux-Arts, Casablanca, 1959

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, 1959

Galerie 7, Poitiers, 1960

Galerie Bradtke, Luxembourg, 1960

La Galerie St Ferdinand Pimlico, Paris, 1960

Galerie Talleyrand, Reims, 1961, 1966

Galerie Librairie “La Boîte à Livres”, Tours, 1962

Galerie Raymond Creuze, Paris, 1963

Alaska Methodist University, Anchorage, 1963, 1965

Saint Valéry en Caux Town Hall, Saint Valéry en Caux, 1964

Galerie Welter, Paris, 1964

Galerie Kezek, Megève, 1965

Galerie Creuze, Paris, 1965

Midsommargården Cultural Centre, Stockholm, 1965

Association of Young Artists, Oslo, 1965

Artist in residence at Ekely, the house of Edward Munch, Ekely, 1965

Galerie Galaxie, Detroit (MI),1965

International Art Center, Detroit (MI),1965

Jefferson Gallery, La Jolla (CA), 1966

Galerie Plaisir de France, Los Angeles (CA), 1966

Palm Springs Museum, Palm Springs (CA), 1966

Galerie Schmitt, Metz, 1966

Galerie de Beaune, Paris, 1968

Galleria Cittadella, Ascona, 1968

Galleria Rialto, Venice, 1968

Colegio de Arquitectos de Cataluña y Baleares (Spain), 1968

Roland, Browse & Delbanco Gallery, London, 1970

Galleria del Vantaggio, Rome, 1971

Grange de Meslay, Tours, 1971

Galleria d’Arte San Luca, Bologna, 1972

Galleria del Vantaggio, Rome, 1972

Galerie Jacques Davidson, Tours, 1972

Cambridge Arts Centre, Cambridge, 1972

Musée de l’Abbaye de Sainte Croix, Sables d’Olonne, 1972

Galerie de L’Armitière, Rouen, 1973

Kunstgården, Skovby (Denmark), 1974

Galleria Tonino di Campione, Campione (Italy), 1974

Galerie Nane Stern, Paris, 1975, 1978, 1982, 1986

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1975

Galleria Costellazione, Genoa, 1975

Jacques Baruch Gallery, Chicago (IL), 1976

Galerie du Manoir, La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland), 1977

Galerie 21, Zurich, 1979

Musée Savoisien, Chambéry, 1979

Galerie Jacques Davidson, Tours, 1979

Daniel Abras Gallery, Brussels, 1979

Musée de la Ville de Nice, Nice, 1979

Galerie des Ponchettes, Musée de Nice, Nice, 1980

Schmuck Gallery, Augsburg (Germany), 1981

Bibliothèque Municipale, Graulhet (France), 1981

Lola’s Art Galleries and Studio, New York, 1981

Galerie Gisèle Linder, Basel, 1982

National Academy of Sciences, Washington, 1983

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Ernest Rupin, Brive, 1983

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Quimper, 1983

Galerie Gisèle Linder, Basel, 1983

Millioud Gallery, Houston, (TX), 1983

Galerie Jacques Davidson, Tours, 1983

Artistes Chinois de Paris, Town Hall of the 6th arrondissement, Paris, 1983

T’ang, Soixante-dix lavis, acryliques et aquarelles, Musée du Château, Vitré, 1984

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Vannes, 1984

Schumacher Gallery, Zwingenberg, 1984

Beauvais Municipal Theatre, Beauvais, 1984

Bürgerzentrum, Borbeck Castle, Essen, 1985

Cultural Centre of Bottrop-Oberhausen, 1986

Maison de l’Amérique Latine, Paris, 1987

Orangerie de Landecy, Geneva, 1987

Aras Gallery, Saulgau (Germany), 1988

Galerie de la Poste, Pont-Aven, 1988

Atelier Pierre Olivier, Lyon, 1989

Musée National d’Art moderne – Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1989

Galerie Le Sacre du Printemps, Brussels, 1990

HO Gallery, Hong Kong, 1995, 1997, 1998

Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, 1996

Touring exhibition of the Xubaizhai Collection, the Hong Kong Museum of Art; the Singapore Museum of Art; the British Museum, London; and the Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne, 1996

The Tao of Painting: T’ang Haywen, A Retrospective, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 1997

Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong, 1997, 2016

Maîtres de L’Encre: Chang Dai-Chien, T’ang Haywen, Zao Wou-Ki, Musée de Pontoise, 1999

T’ang Haywen – Paths of Ink (Retrospective), Musée Guimet, Paris, 2002

Paths of Ink (Retrospective), Shiseido Gallery, Shiseido Foundation, Tokyo, 2002

L’Ultimo Viaggio [The Last Journey], Saint Louis de France Cultural Centre, Rome, 2006

Ink and Tao: T’ang Haywen, Ferenc Hopp Museum of Asiatic Arts, Budapest, 2007

T’ang Haywen, Inks & Watercolours, Yishu 8 Cultural Centre, Beijing, 2011

Le Souffle venu d’Asie, Abbaye de Beaulieu, Contemporary Art Centre, 2011

Breeze from Paris, Eslite Gallery, Taipei, 2014

Selected bibliography

Selected bibliography

Eros Bellinelli, T’ang, Edizioni Panarie, Lugano, 1974

Jean-François Jarrige, Jean-Paul Desroches & Philippe Koutouzis, Les Chemins de L’encre [Paths of Ink], Éditions de la Pointe, 2002

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