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A Chinese painter in Paris (1927-1991)

T_ang Haywen by Yonfan Manshih 1991.jpg

Portrait of T’ang Haywen © Yonfan Manshih, 1991, with the permission of T’ang Haywen Archives


An exhibition to be discovered at the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet until June 17, 2024.

This spring, the Musée Guimet invites the public to discover an exceptional exhibition revealing the immense talent of a great Chinese artist, a contemporary of Zao Wou-ki: T'ang Haywen.

T'ang Haywen arrived in Paris in 1948, officially to study medicine, and never left. He discovered a country where creativity was in full effervescence. Like other foreign artists, he came face to face with Western modernity and, like the first Chinese artists who came to Paris to train, including Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013) and Chu Teh-Chun (1920-2014), he became one of the leading figures in the bubbling hotbed of artistic life that was Montparnasse at the time.


Trained in Western painting, his sketchbooks reveal that he regularly visited Paris museums, including the Musée Guimet, and was inspired by the city in urban landscapes sketched quickly with a ballpoint pen. A modern man of letters, insatiably curious about Western arts and cultures, he found his vocation as a painter in Paris. Trained in calligraphy by his grandfather and interested in Taoist philosophy, he lived free of material and social constraints. He wrote to his brother in 1958: "I found my vocation in painting... I didn't think it would please our parents... it's a very serious business, where there can be no question, honestly, of seeking success for its own sake... Success must, to be genuine, be completely sincere. Once a painter has found himself, then he can work for others, he must, but he can't do it before... I can't and won't give up this vocation."


Untitled, 1965,

watercolor, gouache and ink on cardboard, Kyro,

MA 13413

© RMN-Grand Palais (MNAAG, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier © T’ang Haywen / ADAGP, Paris, 2024


T'ang Haywen: a Chinese artist in France 


A discreet artist, T'ang Haywen is gradually establishing himself as a major figure in contemporary creation and Chinese modernity. During his lifetime, he exhibited in numerous art galleries in France and abroad, as well as at the Centre Pompidou in 1989. By the end of the 1990s, he had achieved international recognition. If he was a great traveler, he made France his home, and Western art a powerful source of inspiration, while remaining profoundly Chinese; a duality that inhabited him throughout his life as an artist. Introduced to calligraphy by his grandfather in Vietnam, his painting is a vibrant hyphen between the Asian tradition of pure monochrome ink and the Western influence of vibrant color, between figuration and abstraction, or rather "non-figuration" as he preferred to describe it. 

Through a selection of some one hundred major works, the exhibition presents a panorama of the major stages in his career, as well as the essential facets of the work of an artist who sought, in his own words, "an ideal painting, uniting the visible world and the world of thought".


Greeting card ,


ink on paper,

MA 13395 

© T’ang Haywen Archives © T’ang Haywen / ADAGP, Paris, 2024


Ink between tradition and modernity


His early years in Paris are illustrated by a number of watercolor and gouache studies, influenced by the paintings of the great masters such as Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse and Paul Klee. His distinctive style is evident in his abstract and calligraphic landscapes of the 1960s, with their vivid colours and monochromes. The period from the early 1970s to around 1983-84 is evoked by gouache or ink paintings, in polychrome or monochrome. The 1970s saw the blossoming of his preferred format, the diptych. The larger formats, presented in this exhibition, allow T'ang Haywen to show abstract landscapes in monochrome ink, while the small formats, folded papers, diptychs and triptychs of the 1980-1985 period demonstrate his full mastery of gesture and brushwork. These works express the Taoist dynamism and tension between full and empty, black and white, the visible world and the world of thought.




ink on paper, Arches,

MA 13252

© T’ang Haywen Archives © T’ang Haywen / ADAGP, Paris, 2024

Previously unseen creations and archival material, which had been kept in the secrecy of his studio, lift the veil on the intimacy of this artist who was fundamentally enamoured of freedom and simplicity, reflecting his inclination towards oriental asceticism. An itinerant painter, T'ang Haywen favoured formats that could be transported in his drawing box. These original and touching works are being shown to the public for the first time, including postcards sent to friends and acquaintances, painted ceramic tiles left over from a stay in San Francisco in 1965, small monochrome portraits and pages from sketchbooks. 


The exhibition features a wide selection from the exceptional donation of 202 works and around 400 personal archival items to the Musée Guimet by the Direction nationale d'interventions domaniales in 2022. The works donated to Guimet had been the object of art trafficking: seized by the State, they were selected in collaboration with the museum's teams. They are now back in the spotlight, providing a unique insight into the life and work of T'ang Haywen, a singular modern artist of the post-war period.


Find out more: 


Musée national des arts asiatiques-Guimet 

6, place d'Iéna

75116 Paris

Open every day except Tuesday

From 10 am to 6pm

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