Sunday, June 15, 2008

Zhang Daqian

From my review of “Zhang Daqian: Painter, Collector, Forger” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts:
While surveying the Museum of Fine Arts’ collection of Chinese paintings over the past few years, staff members came upon an ink painting of a majestic knotty mountain with people lounging and fishing at pavilions in a misty river valley at its foot. It was a sublime scene, even though the seven-foot-tall painting was cracked, threadbare in places, patched in others, and dulled by a gray-brown murk. Attributed to the 10th-century artist Guan Tong, the painting was acquired by the MFA in 1957, and it was hailed as a landmark addition to the museum’s collection. But over the years it quietly slipped into obscurity.

That obscurity was one sign that something wasn’t quite right. Neither MFA Chinese art curator Hao Sheng nor research fellow Joe Scheier-Dolberg, both of whom began working at the museum about three years ago, were familiar with the piece, “Drinking and singing at the foot of a precipitous mountain” [pictured above], when they pulled it out of storage. “A painting of this caliber,” Scheier-Dolberg tells me, “so early and so important, we certainly would have known about it.”

Seals indicated that the painting came from the collection of the 12th-century emperor Huizong. A colophon (a collector’s praise) written at the top purported to be by Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322), said to be the most accomplished calligrapher of his day. These eminent affiliations threatened to be too good to be true. The style seemed off. And most suspicious of all, the painting had come from the collection of Zhang Daqian.
Read the rest here.

“Zhang Daqian: Painter, Collector, Forger,” Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, Dec. 15, 2007, to Sept. 14, 2008.


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