Monday, February 25, 2008

Zhang Daqian: Painter, Collector, Forger at MFA Boston

Press release from MFA Boston:
Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) casts a long shadow over the modern history of Chinese painting. As a painter, he was known for his singular ability to mix traditional techniques and styles with contemporary ideas and currents. As a collector, he accumulated important examples from all genres of Chinese painting and left behind copious seals and inscriptions. As a forger, Zhang so mastered the art of deception that his fakes were purchased unwittingly by nearly every major art museum in the United States—the MFA included. Indeed, the first question asked by experts when a work is considered suspect is: “Could this be by Zhang Daqian?”

This exhibition focuses on all three facets of Zhang’s career and features a rich selection of works from the MFA alongside loans from private collections. Of particular interest is a master forgery acquired by the Museum in 1957 as an authentic work of the tenth century. The painting, which was allegedly a landscape by the Five Dynasties period master Guan Tong, is one of Zhang’s most ambitious forgeries and serves to illustrate both his skill and his audacity.


Shan Shui said...

The funny thing about Zhang Daqian's forgeries is that they thumb their nose at Western obsession with 'authenticity', while revealing an age old cultural particularity of traditional Chinese painting. All painters learned by copying older masters, but many kept the habit, since they were often themselves collectors, and could easily be tempted to make and sell a copy of an 'original'
This and other social and economic functions related to painting created a galaxy of 'Beautiful Fakes' which constitute a good part of most of museum and private collections... You are invited to visit mine:

MB said...

Copying does seem to play an intriguing role in the tradition of Chinese painting. I'd never thought about the relationship this had with collecting as well--very interesting! Do you know of any scholarship on this subject (translated into English :))

Shan Shui said...

I am mainly familiar with American scholarship on this subject. The one story that attracted the most media attention was the controversy over a painting attributed to Dong Yuan, purchased by the MET, which stirred a heated and at times venomous debate among 'experts'. See 'Issues of Authenticity in Chinese Painting" published by the MET, and also 'Chinagate' on the Internet. Zhang Daqian was again the presumed forger.