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Chinese abstract painter Zao Wou-ki dies aged 93

A visitor looks at a 2.8-metre by 10-metre triptych by Chinese painter Zao at Christie's auction house in Hong Kong. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
A visitor looks at a 2.8-metre by 10-metre triptych by Chinese painter Zao at Christie's auction house in Hong Kong. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

ZURICH (Reuters) - Abstract master Zao Wou-ki, one of China's most significant artists whose works routinely fetch millions of dollars at auction, has died in Switzerland aged 93.

Zao, who suffered from Alzheimer's, died on Tuesday and had been in hospital for 10 days in the western Swiss town of Nyon, his widow's lawyer Marc Bonnant told Reuters.

Born in Beijing, Zao moved to Paris in 1948 before the Communist takeover of his country. In Europe, he was inspired by artists like Paul Klee, Alberto Giacometti and Joan Miro and had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1959.

He became a French citizen in 1964 and only returned to China for the first time since leaving in 1972.

Zao's son from a previous marriage, Jialing Zhao, had fought a legal battle with his third wife Francoise Marquet over guardianship of the artist since the couple moved to Switzerland in 2011, Bonnant said.

Renowned for combining Chinese and European influences, his paintings -- like "10.1.68" and "Hommage a Tou-Fou" -- have sold for millions of dollars at auction in recent years.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed sadness at the passing of a "great artist".

"He mixed Western influences with his Chinese identity to give his work a universal scope," Fabius said in a statement. "With him, we are losing an emblematic figure of lyrical abstraction whose work made ​​an outstanding contribution."

Soaring Chinese demand has driven prices for expensive art and luxury goods in recent years although that trend has cooled along with the pace of growth of China's economy.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson, additional reporting by John Irish and Chine Labbe in Paris, editing by Paul Casciato)

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