T’ang Haywen (1927-1991)


T’ang Haywen was born in 1927 in Amoy/Xiamen (Fujian province, China) to a wealthy family involved in Southern China and South East Asia silk trade.  In 1937, when the war broke out between China and Japan, the family moved to Vietnam.

T’ang had started to learn calligraphy in China with his grandfather and enrolled at the French school of Saigon (Hoh Chi Minh City) where he learned French, English and even some Japanese.  As early as 16, he started to draw portraits in the margins of his Chinese-French dictionary.  In 1946, his teachers suggested that he be sent to France to further his studies.  T’ang left for France where he was supposed to learn medicine but failed to do so.  Like Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh-Chun, he became one the famous Chinese artists of the second generation of “overseas Chinese artists” who left China to study in France. Like Zao and Chu, T’ang never returned and is now considered like them as the inventor of a new aesthetic language.

In 1949 T’ang received a degree in French Civilization with honors and studied French literature.  During this time, he also followed the drawing lessons at the Grande Chaumière Academy, also attended by Zao, Chu and years before by Sanyu and Xu Beihong.

Art quickly became his way of life and T’ang became an active participant in the Paris art world, bursting with energy after the war.  He also became a member of the Antique Drama group of the Sorbonne University and played the part of the Coryphée in The Persians the Eschyle play.  He visited art galleries and museums and taught himself to paint with oil and executed portraits, still-lifes and landscapes.

These early and extremely rare works, where he demonstrated a sense of composition and natural control of the oil medium, already displayed a Chinese atmosphere.  T’ang was soon noticed and particularly by Suzanne de Conninck, a personality in the Parisian literary and artistic circles. She was then collaborating with the Museum of Modern art and introduced T’ang to some very important American collectors.  De Conninck also gave him his first important exhibition in her gallery of the Rue de Seine in Paris.

T’ang then started to travel all over Europe and in the USA and behaved like a butterfly, unattached and light, moving from place to place.  His philosophy of life was in stark contrast with the attitude of other artists often pursuing an ideal of wealth and celebrity.  T’ang simply wanted to enjoy his life, be happy and realize himself.  This attitude, corresponding to the Taoist values he embraced, distanced him from the pursuit of pride and recognition.

This detachment and lightness of being led him then towards the medium of water: the lighter, faster, and cheaper but also more spiritual medium of China. T’ang painted in series always using the same standard sizes of paper or card.  He adopted these formats to get rid of one more material concern and attain a greater and faster integration between the idea and the execution.  These very characteristic formats, often in diptychs, bestow upon his work a unifying and recognizable consistency and at the same time separate him from all the painters of his generation.

Since his death in 1991, four important Museum exhibitions were organized:

In 1996, a retrospective, The Tao of Painting at the Musée Océanographique of Monaco (Monaco).  In 1997, an improved version of The Tao of Painting traveled to the Taipei Fine Art Museum (Taiwan) and was acclaimed by the Asian press.  In 1999, the exhibition Masters of Ink at the Musée de Pontoise (France) displayed works by Chang Dai-Chien, T’ang Haywen and Zao Wou-Ki.  In 2002, a retrospective Paths of Ink was presented at the Musée des Arts asiatiques-Guimet in Paris.  On this occasion, a bi-lingual book also entitled Paths of Ink was published.

In 2012, the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC Beijing) will organize a retrospective of his work. An important book on his work should also be published. The catalogue raisonné of his work is in preparation.

 “I am trying to ignore the conscious world, to reach beyond it and explore new shapes, always linked to nature and its rhythms. I am trying to identify with nature’s forces and to materialize them through painting”. T’ang Haywen




T'ang Haywen (1927-1991)


Untitled c.1970, ink on Kyro card, diptych,70x100 cm


Untitled c.1970, ink on Kyro card, diptych,70x100 cm


Untitled c.1970, ink on Kyro card, diptych,70x100 cm


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