Asian Art Newspaper article in May 2024

Following its previous exhibition Paths of Ink (2002) devoted to the late T’ang Haywen (b 1927, China), Musée Guimet is presenting a new perspective of his work focusing on his Parisian years, spanning from 1948 until his death in 1991. Until recently, the difficulty in staging an exhibition on the artist was mainly the artist himself – self-taught with a nomadic lifestyle, and indifferent to the gallery system or to pleasing collectors, the extent of his practice remained uncertain for a long time, with the location of numerous pieces unknown. With the creation of the
T’ang Haywen Archives in 2015, his life and work are now thoroughly documented, allowing for new scholarship on the artist.

An important donation the museum received in 2022
 was centre of the current exhibition, highlighting works of art as well as pieces from the artist’s personal archives. A contemporary of Chu Teh- Chun and Zao Wou-Ki, who had also embarked on the journey from China and established their studio in Paris, the artist remained largely unnoticed - except to the connoisseur – and far from the limelight of his illustrious fellow artists. He can probably best be described as a free spirit, with a lifestyle allowing him to live in the moment, thus enriching and enhancing his practice, but questionable towards methodically building a career with international recognition.

The exhibition reads like a diary of the artist’s interests, encounters, and travels. Arriving in Paris in 1948, he absorbs Western techniques and influences that he later perfects at the Ecole de la Grande Chaumière. Aware of the work of the likes of Cézanne, Matisse, Klee, or Guaugin, T’ang Haywen is a prolific painter and experiments with small figurative pieces ranging from self-portraits to still lives or landscapes. As the exhibition curated by Valerie Zaleski from Musée Guimet underlines, he never completely cut off his ties with Chinese painting and comes back to ink as early as the 1960s. An insatiable painter and eager to travel, ink becomes his preferred medium with its instantaneous capacity to be absorbed by paper, allowing him to quickly capture the landscapes or sights. This inclination towards Chinese painting becomes even more apparent in the 1970s, when working on large diptychs, alluding to Taoism with its binary relation of ying and yang. With a remarkable mastery of ink, the artist pursues his experimentation of the medium in the 1980s with the introduction of colour, leaning towards pieces of smaller dimensions.

Throughout his time in Paris, he travelled abroad within Europe and to the US, but never returned to China. His family had agreed for him to study in Paris to attend medical school, and as the oldest son, he was expected to return to China shortly after. However, while in Paris, T’ang Haywen discovered his calling for painting, distancing himself from his family. Throughout his career, he resolutely followed his quest to complete "the ideal painting". A diverse artist, he revived the use of ink, equally mastering figuration and abstraction. Engaging with a variety of art circles and friends from all backgrounds, he nevertheless escaped any kind of label or affiliation. His art mirrored his life, independent and free of any attachments which the exhibition relates in a remarkable way.


Article written by Olivia Sand for Asian Art Newspaper, May 2024