In a move that may lead to closure of a major
controversy over the attributions of some early Chinese paintings,
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has mounted an exhibition
of about 100 works that were collected by C. C. Wang, a well-known
painter, collector and dealer in New York and will hold an international
symposium about problems of authenticating such works in December.
The exhibition includes "Along the
Riverbank," a large hanging scroll, shown below, that
the museum and C. C. Wang maintain was done by Dong Yuan (d. 962)
and which, they say, is one of the greatest Chinese paintings
of all time.
Some highly respected experts, however, such
as James Cahill, retired professor at the University of California
at Berkeley, and Sherman Lee, retired director of the Cleveland
Museum of Art, have challenged such claims and Cahill has suggested
it might be a 20th Century work by Zhang Daqian (also known as
Chang Ta-Ch'ien and Chang Dai-chien, a famous painter, collector
and forger who died in 1983) from whom Mr. Wang acquired the painting
several decades ago.
In his September 3, 1999 review,
entitled "A World of Passion, Stroke by Quivering Stroke,"
in The New York Times of this exhibition, Holland Cotter
noted that the attribution of "Along The Riverbank,"
had created something of a "furor" in the art world
and that "Phrases like 'Chinagate' began to pop up on the
Internet," an apparent reference to the series of articles
in The City Review on the attributions of Chinese art at
the Metropolitan Museum.
"The full range of opinion about Riverbank's
dating and authenticity will be presented on December 11, when
the Museum will host a full-day symposium devoted to the issue
of authentication and conoisseurship," the museum announced,
adding that Mr. Cahill and Mr. Lee will "offer their reasons
for doubting Riverbank's authenticity" and that "Papers
in support of Riverbank's early date will be presented
by Professor Shou-chien, Director of the Graduate Institute of
Art History at the National Taiwan University, who will discuss
the stylistic reasons for accepting a 10th Century dating, and
Maxwell K. Hearn, Curator of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum
and curator of The Artist as Collector, who will present a comparative
physical examination of Riverbank and the British Museum's
forgery" by Zhang Daqian that is on loan in this exhibition.
"Three additional papers will examine other works of questioned
attribution," the museum's press release on the exhibition
said, not specifying which ones. "A summary of connoisseurship
methodologies by Wen Fong, Consultative Chairman and Douglas Dillon
Curator of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy at the Metropolitan
Museum, will conclude the proceedings," the announcement
Wen Fong is a professor at Princeton University
from which both Douglas Dillon, former chairman of the museum,
and Thomas P. F. Hoving, a former director of the museum, graduated.
The major Chinese Art galleries at the museum are named after
Mr. Dillon, a former Secretary of the Treasury, and Wen Fong convinced
Mr. Hoving to acquire in 1973 for the museum, with great fanfare,
25 paintings from Mr. Wang that it then said were by many of the
greatest masters of China's golden era of painting, the Sung and
Yuan Dynasties that are between about 650 and 1000 years old.
Subsequently, Wen Fong convinced the museum
to make many more Asian Art acquisitions, including the Harry
Packard collection of Japanese Art, a purchase that consumed the
museum's total acquisition budget for five years and a collection
that has been shown since only on a very selective basis.
In 1999, the museum "completed its goal
of an entire wing devoted to Asian art
largest display space for Chinese painting and calligraphy outside
Asia," the museum's press release noted, adding that the
space included the C. C. Wang Gallery and the Frances Young Tang
Gallery, the latter named in honor of Oscar Tang's late wife.
Mr. Tang has promised the museum a gift of 12 paintings from the
C. C. Wang Family Collection, including the Riverbank work.
Wen Fong and Oscar Tang are related through marriage.
The new exhibition includes almost 100 works
that have been collected by C. C. Wang, almost two-thirds of which
are now owned by, or promised gifts to, the Metropolitan. The
exhibition also includes works formerly owned by C. C. Wang, who
was born in 1907, and now in other collections as well as works
still in his possession, several of which are among the most attractive
in the exhibition and one of which, labeled by the museum as by
Ma Yuan, is shown below. In addition, the show also includes 10
of his own very impressive paintings and calligraphies, especially
"Abstraction in Red," which he painted in 1997.
The $60 hard-cover catalogue that accompanies
the exhibition does not illustrate most of the works on view but
only those that are part of Mr. Tang's promised gift and related
works of art elsewhere.
The exhibition, furthermore, does not include
all of the 25 paintings of the original 1973 acquisition from
C. C. Wang that became the subject of a controversy in 1976 when
I reported in The New York Times that many leading Chinese art
experts, including Mr. Cahill and Mr. Lee, had problems with some
of the attributions. (See The City Review article
on "Chinagate" and several
other related stories in The City Review listed at the
end of this article.)
In 1997, the museum reopened its Chinese Art
Galleries and announced that it had received a "promised
gift" of 11 other works from the Wang Collection from Oscar
Tang including one painting, "Along the Riverbank,"
that Mr. Wang and the museum maintained was by Dong Yuan (d. 962)
and was one of the greatest paintings in the history of art. An
article by Judith H. Dobryznski in The New York Times announcing
the Tang gift quoted Mr. Wang as described the painting as "This
is the very best painting, like the Mona Lisa."
The City Review
noted at the time that there were some doubts about its attribution
and shortly thereafter an article by Carl Nagin in The New
Yorker magazine reported that some famous experts such as
James Cahill, did not accept the attribution. (See The City Review article.)
Subsequently, debate over the attribution raged
in the letters column of Orientations magazine. (See The City Review
I sent a long letter to Orientations
that was not published. (See
The City Review article that contains the text of that
"The collection of C. C. Wang is a unique
historical achievement, encompassing many masterpieces dispersed
from the Qing imperial collection early in this century,"
the museum's announcement said without any details of how the
paintings were acquired.
The collection is richest in paintings of the 10th through the
14th Century, including Northern Song (960-1126) monumental landscapes,
figural narratives and elegant album-size paintings sponsored
by the Southern Song court (1127-1279), and the full sweep of
scholar painting from its inception in the 10th and 11th centuries
to its early flowering during the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279-1368)
continuation of both the scholarly and courtly traditions during
the Ming and Qing dynasties is also well represented, including
an especially rich concentration of works by individualist and
orthodox masters of the 17th Century, with masterpieces by the
individualists Zhu Da (Bada Shanren, 1626-1705) and Shitao (1642-1707)
and by the orthodox painters Wu Li (1632-1717) and Wang Yuanqi
(1642-1715)," the museum's announcement said.
In a laudatory action, the museum now admits
that its attribution of Riverbank to Dong Yuan, which it now says
is "attributed to Dong Yuan," is not universally accepted
and it noted that some scholars have suggested it "may be
a modern fabrication by the renowned painter, connoisseur, and
forger Zhang Daqian." "In response to this suggestion,
the Museum has borrowed a landscape from the British Museum that
was formerly attributed to Dong Yuan's follower, Juran (active
ca. 960-95) but which is now acknowledged to be a Zhang forgery.
These two paintings are displayed side by side to enable the public
to draw its own conclusions," the museum maintained.
It is interesting to note that a major exhibition
on Zhang Daqian will be held September 26 to November 20, 1999
at the San Franciso State University's Fine Arts Gallery. The
exhibition celebrates the artist's and the university's centennials.
It is sponsored by, among others, China Airlines, the Fine Arts
Museums of San Francisco and the National Museum of History of
Taiwan, and is entitled "Chang Dai-chien in California"
and it has a spectacular website (Click
here to visit its website at http://www.sfsu.edu/~allarts/chang/chang.html)
on the Internet with extensive information and bibliography on
the artist as well as several very interesting articles on him.
On September 25, 1999, a symposium will be
held at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco about
the artist with such speakers as James Cahill, Michael Sullian,
professor emeritus at Stanford University, Paul Karlstrom, director
of the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution,
Gordon Chang, professor at Stanford University, C. C. Wang, the
artist and collector, and Hung Liu, artist and professor of art
at Mills College.
"Unique in the mastery of historical styles
dating back to the 9th Century, reintroduction of brilliant color
with painterly modeling, and grand synthesis of these traditions
with aspects of Euro-American Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism,
Chang Dai-chien is a singular giant of Chinese painting,"
wrote Mark Johnson, associate professor of art and gallery director
of the art department of the San Francisco State University in
his essay, "Chang Dai-chien, A California Reintroduction,"
on the exhibition's website at http://www.sfsu.edu/~allarts/chang/changessay.html.
Johnson wrote that "The myopic fixation
on 'forgery' in the American press and total disregard for the
artist's original achievement says more about our national psyche
and its passion for scandal than demonstrating any understanding
of the issues in Chang Dai-chien's art."
In a November 24, 1991 review in the Washington
Post of an exhibition on Chang Dai-chien at the Sackler Gallery
in Washington, Paul Richard wrote that the story of the artist's
life "is enough to make one gasp." "That amazing,
twinkling master, with his long, white wispy beard, his floor-length
robes of silk and his favorite pet gibbon chattering beside him
- had a hundred different styles, some original, some not. He
was a scholar and poet, an insatiable collector and his era's
finest forger of antique Chinese art. As romantic as Picasso,
he had four wives simultaneously and fathered 16 children
who fled his homeland in 1949, kept uncaged bears and panthers
and fierce Tibetan mastiffs on the landscaped bits of China that
he re-created in Brazil and Argentina and at Pebble Beach, Calif.
The notoriety he nourished equaled that of Warhol. His marketing
was skillful. His brightly colored paintings (he charged by the
square foot) these days fetch as much as $500,000 each. His collecting
was impressive too. The masterpieces that he sold after leaving
China (let's hope they were originals) brought him $1.75 million
in 1950s dollars," Richard wrote. (Click here to see the
entire article at http://www.sfsu.edu/~allarts/chang/changstory7.html.)
Richard relates that Chang was born in "modest circumstances"
in Neijiang, Sichuan Province, in 1899, and that when "his
younger brother, Junshou, killed himself at 20, Chang wrote many
letters home in his brother's hand to assure his aging mother
that her son was still alive." "Chang," he continued,
"had 970 old seals (many of them faked) whose impressions
he would use to enumerate the long-dead 'owners' of his pictures.
At first he carved them carefully, but he later found it easier,
and equally deceptive, to employ photo-engraving. Electric hair-dryers
proved useful too
.When dead emperors were unavailable to
authenticate his forgeries, Chang employed the services of his
neighbor, Puru, who just happened to be the great-grandson of
one emperor and the cousin of another. (In the early 1930s both
painters lived in Peking in the old imperial summer palace
"Chang's paintings tend to give headaches
to historians. Specialists employed at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art, the British Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, as
well as the Freer, have been taken by his forgeries," Richard
In 1992, the Asia Society in New York held
an exhibition of Chang's work, "Challenging the Past,"
whose $35 catalogue was written by Shen C. Yu Fu, senior curator
of Chinese Art at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian
Institution in Washington and the Freer Gallery in Washington
and Jan Stuart of the Sackler.
According to Mr. Fu, Chang's first forgery
was of a work by Shitao.
In an August 30, 1992 review in the Christian
Science Monitor of the same show when it was shown at the
St. Louis Art Museum, Julie Tilsner wrote that "many of Chang's
forgeries are now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum
of Art and the British Museum." The Asia Society exhibition,
however, did not include any references to possible forgeries
by the artist at the Metropolitan Museum. (Click here to see the
entire Tilsner article at http://www.sfsu.edu/~allarts/chang/changstory3.html.)
Tilsner wrote that Chang had been branded "bourgeois"
by the Communists and left China in 1949, the year of the Communist
victory, and started "an expatriate's progress that took
him to India and Hong Kong, to Argentina and Brazil, to the United
States and finally to Taiwan, where he died in 1983."
According to Tilsner, Fu explained that "traditionally
the notion of caveat emptor has been much more important in the
art marketplace in China: The responsibility for recognizing a
fake fell to the buyer, whose connoisseurship was expected to
be up to the task. The dealer was not necessarily ill-thought
of for selling a work of dubious authenticity."
"It is estimated that Chang produced about
30,000 works in his lifetime, of which about 5,000 can be identified
today. Many works by Chang - who became a fervent enemy of communism
and supporter of the Taiwan regime - were destroyed in the Cultural
Revolution on the mainland," Tilsner noted.
In a January 17, 1999 article in the Washington
Post, John Pomfret, the newspaper's Beijing bureau chief,
wrote that in 1989 Shen Fu found a box with 475 Chinese seals
that had been owned by Chang in an estate near Sao Paulo, Brazil,
that was soon to be flooded for a dam project.
The seals were transferred to the Sackler Gallery
in Washington with their "ownership in dispute," Pomfret
wrote, adding that they "could prove to be a crucial tool
in completing one of the great tasks of artistic sleuthing in
modern times - unmasking paintings forged by Chang."
"Since 1991, following the completion
of an exhibition of Chang at the Sackler," Pomfret continued,
"the seals have bounced back and forth between the museum
and the Smithsonian's Office of Inspector General, while members
of Chang's family have argued with the museum over who should
get to keep them
.Chang Dai-chien looms like a giant over
20th Century Chinese art. The most versatile and colorful of China's
painters in the last 100 years, Chang was a bandit, a Buddhist
monk and a playboy
.He hobnobbed with spies, palled around
with Picasso and spent his last days in a quiet retreat in Taiwan
he named the 'Abode of Illusion.'"
According to Pomfret, C. C. Wang bought "Along
the Riverbank" in 1956 from Chang, who "amassed a collection
of old silk, old ink and old brushes, so that many of his forgeries
would pass scientific muster."
"Chang left Neijiang when he was a young
man and set off to make his fortune. He was kidnapped by bandits
and joined a Buddhist monastery in Jiangsu province for 100 days
but left because he wasn't willing to brand Buddhist scriptures
into his scalp. Then it was on to Shanghai, which in the Roaring
Twenties - as now - enticed hucksters, writers, painters, revolutionaries,
dancers, dreamers and schemers. Chang gravitated to Shanghai to
be with his brother Chang Shanzi, famed for painting tigers and
working as an intelligence agent for the Nationalist government
borrowed 5,000 pieces of gold to fund a three-year stay copying
the paintings in the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas in Dunhuang along
China's Silk road in the 1940s. Chang fled China in 1949 with
the greatest aggregation of art ever to have been smuggled out
of China - the "Great Wind Hall" collection. Among the
ancient scrolls, Chang also stashed his fakes. Within 10 years,
he had sold scores of the paintings to bankroll his unbridled
lifestyle. The city of Paris spent $80,000 on a Chang fake. The
Boston Museum of Fine Arts bought two. The Ohara Museum in Kurashiki,
Japan, bought one. The Freer Gallery bought another
stints in India, Hong Kong and Argentina, Chang settled outside
, a hangout for Chinese organized criminals who
had been rousted from China by the Communists, such as the infamous
Big-Earned Tu and the scabrous thugs of his Green Gang
the 1950s, Chang spent more than $5 million turning his Sao Paulo
estate into the 'Garden of Eight Virtues.'
Chang was close
with Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, the head of the Chinese
government on Taiwan. Once a consular official refused to give
four of Chang's wives new passports simultaneously, arguing that
polygamy was illegal under Chinese law. The official
quickly transferred to Swaziland, where he died in a car accident,"
Chang apparently had Pu Ju, the brother of
China's last emperor, Pu Yi, write a comment on a painting he
had forged to help attest to its authenticity, Pomfret wrote.
("Puru" quoted above in the article by Richard is probably
According to Pomfret, Cahill met Chang in the
1950's and Chang's daughter studied under him. Pomfret wrote that
Cahill maintains that early Chinese paintings were true to their
surroundings and that "Along the Riverbank" has a section
with a stream in the background that "somehow becomes a road
in its foreground" and "the tops of the mountains also
fade into nothingness, another telltale sign." "The
brushwork, Cahill says, is too imprecise to be a Southern Tang.
Chinese painters back then were much more exact. 'The Riverbank,'
while a masterful work of art, he says, is of the 20th century,
not the 10th. Lately, Cahill has had some support. A Japanese
art expert, Hironobu Kohoda, wrote recently that, according to
his analysis, 'The Riverbank' has no date. A no-time painting
means a contemporary piece. But the technique is only possible
to be done by Chang Dai-chien.'"
Pomfret said that Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan
believes that of the six art institutions that maintain they own
originals by Dong Yuan only the Metropolitan and the Kurokawa
Institute of Ancient Culture in Japan are real and the others
are fakes. The other four institutions he was referring to at
the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, the Forbidden City collection
in Beijing, the Shanghai Museum and the Liaoning Museum in China.
Click here to see the full article by John
Pomfret at http://www.sfsu.edu/~allarts/chang/changstory1.html.
In his preface to the Metropolitan Museum's
new catalogue, Philippe de Montebello, the museum's director,
wrote that "in the course of his long career. Mr. Wang has
assembled the most comprehensive private collection of Chinese
old master paintings formed since the seventeenth century, with
particular strengths in monumental landscape painting of the tenth
and eleventh centuries, Song figure paintings of the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, Yuan scholar painting of the fourteenth
century, and Qing orthodox and individualist paintings of the
In his catalogue essay on "Riverbank,"
Wen Fong wrote that "In early Chinese painting no attribution
can be accepted without careful examination. There is general
agreement that the two finest surviving examples of early Chinese
monumental landscape painting are believably signed works by Fan
Kuan (active ca. 990-1030
) and Guo Xi (ca. 1000-ca. 1090
Predating these masters, the founding fathers of the landscape
tradition, Jing Hao (ca. 870-930), Guan Tong (active ca. 907-23),
and Li Cheng (919-967) in the north and Dong Yuan and Juran (active
ca. 960-95) in the south, are known only by paintings attributed
to them rather than by authenticated works, or they are known
through later copies. A court painter of the Southern Tang kingdom
in Nanjing, Dong Yuan is of particular significance to this tradition
because works attributed to him inspired major changes in later
landscape painting. Leading landscape masters from the Yuan dynasty
the early twentieth century have sought to re-create Dong Yuan
in their own works, while critics and art historians have struggled
to sort out the various works attributed to him. Until the early
1980s, two Dong Yuan compositions were recognized as best representing
Dong's style: Wintry Groves and Layered Banks
stylistically to the tenth century, and The Xiao and Xiang
, a close copy of Dong's late style dating to
the late eleventh century. In 1983, Richard M. Barnhart proposed
another painting, Riverbank
, as an early work by
"Measuring 87 by 42 7/8 inches, Riverbank
is the tallest of all extant early Chinese paintings, as compared
with the most celebrated surviving Northern Song landscape scroll,
Travelers and Streams and Mountains
, by Fan Kuan,
which measures 81 1/4 inches in height," Wen Fong observed.
"In the most thorough analysis of Riverbank
to date," he continued, "Richard Barnhart has studied
the painting's style, state of preservation, and collectors' seals,
which range from the mid-thirteenth to the late fourteenth century.
He observes that the painting is formed of two pieces of silk
joined down the center (the left piece measures 20 1/4 inches
in width, the right piece 23 pieces in width). Nothing that three
important attributions to Dong Yuan's follower Juran measure,
respectively, 22 5/8, 23 1/2, and 21 7/8 inches in width, he concludes
that 23 inches was the approximate width of silk rolls commonly
used for paintings throughout the early Northern Song period.
He further suggests that in the fourteenth century the two panels
of the painting were separated."
"Barnhart," Wen Fong continued, "compares
Riverbank stylistically with authenticated works by two
lesser tenth-century masters. And he discusses affinities with
other Dong Yuan attributions. He concludes that "while there
is no way to confirm or to deny the authenticity of the signature,
Riverbank gives every indication of being a tenth-century
painting, and its importance to the history of Chinese landscape
painting can scarcely be overstated."
Wen Fong notes that James Cahill questioned
the authenticity of Riverbank as early as 1980 in his Index
of Early Chinese Painters and Paintings and in 1991 cited
Riverbank as an example of Zhang's handiwork at a symposium
on Zhang Daqian. "The whole composition, to my eye, is full
of spongy, ambiguous forms and spatial contradictions," Cahill
was quoted by Wen Fong in describing Riverbank.
"Much hangs on the judgment of Riverbank,"
continued the Cahill quote in Wen Fong's essay. "To admit
[it] into the small canon of believably signed, early Chinese
paintings would allow us - or oblige us - to rewrite our histories."
"James Cahill, in his repudiation of Riverbank
as tenth century, characterizes the brushwork in the painting
as 'fuzzy,' but in fact it is precisely this brushwork that defines
the tenth-century modeling technique," Wen Fong wrote, adding
that "two other tenth-century paintings, Wei Xian's The
Lofty Scholar Liang Boluan
and Huang Jucai's
and Sparrows, show similarly shaded rock forms delineated
by a graded ink wash and softly brushed darker accents, and without
a clearly formulated texture pattern." Speaking of Riverbank,
Wen Fong observed that its "interlocking mountains show a
rich but naturalistic complexity unmatched by any known painted
landscape after the tenth century," adding that "As
a transitional work between the Tang and the early Song, the visual
structure of Riverbank remains notably additive and compartmental
in the treatment of forms and spatial juxtapositions
far valley, with a line of geese leading the eye into the distance
also shows similarities with such earlier Tang examples as the
deep distance in Musicians Riding on an Elephant
the Shoso-in, dating to the eighth century, and emperor Minghuang's
Journey to Shu, attributed to Li Zhaodao (active ca. 670-730),
in the National Palace Museum, Taipei
of 'what must be a distant river turn[ing] imperceptibly into
a road with people walking on it' appears to be a misreading of
the scenery. The zigzag path in the valley leads the eye into
the distance, where it ends at the tiny village by water's edge.
The additive, compartmentalized treatment of space reflects the
conceptual approach of the tenth-century landscape masters - the
approach outlined by Jing Hao, with its emphasis on 'thought'
(si) and 'scenery' (jing)."
A detail of the area in the painting where
the river and a road are close is shown below.
Wen Fong recounts that Zhang Daqian acquired
Riverbank probably in late 1938 or early 1939 from Xu Beihong,
a painter, in wartime Guilin in Guangxi Province. Beihong had
"discovered the painting in Guilin" and at the time
the painting was known "mistakenly" as "The Water
Village." According to Wen Fong, C. C. Wang acquired the
painting from Zhang Daqian in the late 1960's and "had it
restored and remounted in Tokyo by the renowned conservator, Meguro
Sanji." Wen Fong wrote that Zhang Daqian made several copies
of Dong Yuan's work but "it would appear that Zhang Daqian
did not recognize the importance of Riverbank" and
he quotes Fu Shen (Shen Fu) as writing that "There is no
evidence of his ever having made any copy of this work, nor have
we found any discussion of this work by him. A possible reason
for this is the way the mountain forms in this painting are done
with a shading technique, without a clearly defined linear, cun
texture method. Neither does the linear pattern of its trees,
architecture, or human figures seem extraordinary, so Zhang made
no effort to copy or learn from it.'"
Wen Fong concluded that "while Zhang Daqian
may have been capable of creating forgeries of works by Dong Yuan
by successfully imitating Along the Riverbank at Dust [a
different painting from the one at the Metropolitan] and The
Xiao and Xiang Rivers, in whose styles he was thoroughly conversant,
he could never have painted Riverbank, whose ancient and
forgotten forms and techniques were alien and incomprehensible
In any event, Riverbank is a painting whose
condition leaves much to be desired. Even with considerable imagination,
it cannot compare in power to Fan Kuan's famous work cited above.
The museum's catalogue shows a picture of where the painting has
been restored, shown below.
To maintain that it is the Mona Lisa is a bit
of a stretch since Da Vinci's famous painting is legible and colorful
and Riverbank is barely discernible.
It is also a bit of a stretch to underestimate
the formidable talents of Chang Dai-chien and the irrefutable
fact that he sold this work to C. C. Wang and was known to have
made copies of other alleged Dong Yuans.
The Metropolitan is to be congratulated on
admitting that there is critical dissent about the work. It is
probable that the controversy will not end with the publication
of the museum's catalogue and the exhibition. It would have been
nice, also, if the catalogue included all the works in this exhibition,
which it does not, and if it addressed the many other attribution
questions raised by outside experts as indicated in some of the
other stories in this series of articles.
The museum's lavish Chinese and Japanese art
galleries are magnificent spaces, of course, and the museum's
full endorsement of an expansion of its non-Western Art spaces
and collections is extremely laudable.