Zhang Daqian

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Zhang Daqian
Chang Dai-chien.jpg
Native name
Zhāng Zhèngquán (張正權)

(1899-05-10)10 May 1899
Died2 April 1983(1983-04-02) (aged 83)
NationalityRepublic of China (ROC)
Known forPainting
Movementguohua, impressionism, expressionism
Spouse(s)謝舜華, 黃凝素, 曾慶蓉, 楊婉君, 徐雯波
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese張大千
Simplified Chinese张大千
Zhang Daqian
Chang Dai-chien's forgery of Guan Tong's "Drinking and singing at the foot of a precipitous mountain" created between 1910 and 1957. Formerly attributed to Guan Tong, Chinese, 10th century. Ink and colours on silk. 218.2 x 90.2 cm

Zhang Daqian or Chang Dai-chien (Chinese: 張大千; Wade–Giles: Chang Ta-ch'ien; 10 May 1899 – 2 April 1983) was one of the best-known and most prodigious Chinese artists of the twentieth century. Originally known as a guohua (traditionalist) painter, by the 1960s he was also renowned as a modern impressionist and expressionist painter. In addition, he is regarded as one of the most gifted master forgers of the twentieth century.


Zhang was born in 1899 in Sichuan Province to a financially struggling but artistic family. His first commission came at age 12, when a traveling fortune-teller requested he paint her a new set of divining cards. At age 17 he was captured by bandits while returning home from boarding school in Chongqing. When the bandit chief ordered him to write a letter home demanding a ransom, he was so impressed by the boy's brushmanship that he made the boy his personal secretary. During the more than three months that he was held captive, he read books of poetry which the bandits had looted from raided homes.[1]

As a young adult Zhang moved to Kyoto to learn textile dyeing techniques. He later returned to Shanghai and established a successful career selling his paintings.

The governor of Qinghai, Ma Bufang, sent Zhang to Sku'bum to seek helpers for analyzing and copying Dunhuang's Buddhist art.[2]

Due to the political climate of China in 1949, he left the country and resided in Mendoza, Argentina, São Paulo and Mogi das Cruzes, Brazil, and then to Carmel, California, before settling in Taipei, Taiwan in 1978.[3][4] During his years of wandering he had several wives simultaneously, curried favor with influential people, and maintained a large entourage of relatives and supporters. He also kept a pet gibbon. He affected the long robe and long beard of a scholar.[1]

A meeting between Zhang and Picasso in Nice, France in 1956 was viewed as a summit between the preeminent masters of Eastern and Western art. The two men exchanged paintings at this meeting.[3]

Artistic career[edit]

Zhang's early professional painting was primarily in Shanghai. In the late 1920s he moved to Beijing where he collaborated with Pu Xinyu.[5] In the 1930s he worked out of a studio on the grounds of the Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou.[6] In 1940 he led a group of artists in copying the Buddhist wall paintings in the Mogao and Yulin caves. In the late 1950s, his deteriorating eyesight led him to develop his splashed color, or pocai, style.[5] In the 1970s, he mentored painter Minol Araki.[7]


Zhang's forgeries are difficult to detect for many reasons. First, his ability to mimic the great Chinese masters:

So prodigious was his virtuosity within the medium of Chinese ink and colour that it seemed he could paint anything. His output spanned a huge range, from archaising works based on the early masters of Chinese painting to the innovations of his late works which connect with the language of Western abstract art.[8]

Second, he paid scrupulous attention to the materials he used. "He studied paper, ink, brushes, pigments, seals, seal paste, and scroll mountings in exacting detail. When he wrote an inscription on a painting, he sometimes included a postscript describing the type of paper, the age and the origin of the ink, or the provenance of the pigments he had used."

Third, he often forged paintings based on descriptions in catalogues of lost paintings; his forgeries came with ready-made provenance.[9]

Zhang's forgeries have been purchased as original paintings by several major art museums in the United States, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

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.[10]

Art historian James Cahill claimed that the painting The Riverbank, a masterpiece from the Southern Tang dynasty, held by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, was likely another Zhang forgery.[11]

Museum curators are cautioned to examine Chinese paintings of questionable origins, especially those from the bird and flower genre with the query, "Could this be by Chang Dai-chien?"[10] Joseph Chang, Curator of Chinese Art at the Sackler Museum, suggested that many notable collections of Chinese art contained forgeries by the master painter.[11]

It is estimated that Zhang made more than 10 million dollars selling his forgeries.[12]

See also[edit]


  • Shen, Fu. Challenging the past: the paintings of Chang Dai-chien. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Seattle: University of Washington Press, c. 1991. (OCLC 23765860)
  • Chen, Jiazi. Chang Dai-Chien: the enigmatic genius. Singapore : Asian Civilisations Museum, ©2001. (OCLC 48501375)
  • Yang, Liu. Lion among painters: Chinese master Chang Dai Chien. Sydney, Australia: Art Gallery of New South Wales, ©1998. (OCLC 39837498)


  1. ^ a b {{He was a Lion Among Painters, Constance A. Bond, Smithsonian, January 1992, p. 90}}
  2. ^ Toni Huber (2002). Amdo Tibetans in transition: society and culture in the post-Mao era: PIATS 2000: Tibetan studies: proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000. BRILL. p. 205. ISBN 90-04-12596-5.
  3. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ Sullivan, Michael (2006). Modern Chinese artists: a biographical dictionary. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 215. ISBN 0-520-24449-4. OCLC 65644580.
  5. ^ a b "Zhang, Daqian". Credo Reference - Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  6. ^ Maggie Keswick (2006). Patrick Taylor (ed.). Oxford Companion to Garden. via Oxford Reference Online database. Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ "Minneapolis Institute of Art opens first complete retrospective of Japanese painter Minol Araki". ArtDaily. Minneapolis, MN. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  8. ^ Jiazi, Chen; Kwok, Ken (2001), Chang Dai-Chien: The Enigmatic Genius, Singapore: Asian Civilisations Museum, p. 9, ISBN 981-4068-21-7, OCLC 48501375
  9. ^ Fu, Shen CY (1991). "3. Painting theory". Challenging the Past: The Paintings of Chang Dai-Chien. Seattle, Washington: Arthur M Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; University of Washington Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-295-97125-8. OCLC 23765860.
  10. ^ a b "Zhang Daqian — Master Painter/Master Forger". Art Knowledge News. Art Appreciation Foundation. 2006. Retrieved 24 March 2010.
  11. ^ a b Pomfret, John (17 January 1999). "The Master Forger". The Washington Post Magazine: W14.
  12. ^ "Authentication in Art Unmasked Forgers".

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