By Carter B. Horsley
On September 22, Sotheby's will auction 37
lots from the "C. C. Wang Family Collection of Important
Chinese Paintings to Benefit a Charitable Trust" with a high
pre-sale estimate of $2,987,000 and a low pre-sale estimate of
Seven of the lots (Nos. 1-5 and 8 and 9) carry
The catalogue is a bit confusing about attributions.
It prominently states near the front that this
catalogue has an "Absence of Guarantee of Authenticity for
Paintings" and explains:
"The artists' names recorded in this catalogue
are not to be taken as unqualified attributions to the artists
named. No attributions to any artist or date are made or intended.
The current scholarship in the field of Chinese paintings does
not permit unqualified statements as to authorship or date of
execution. Therefore, none of the property in this catalogue is
subject to any guarantee of authenticity and all of the property
is sold 'AS IS' in accordance with paragraph 1 of the Conditions
of Sale. Any reference to the Terms of Guarantee does not apply
to this sale.
"Notwithstanding the preceeding notice,
if within twenty-one days of the sale of any lot, the buyer gives
notice in writing to Sotheby's that the lot sold is a forgery
and if within fourteen days after giving such notice, the buyer
returns the lot in the same condition it was at the time of sale
to the premises of Sotheby's and shows that, considered in the
light of the Glossary set forth in the catalogue, the lot sold
is a forgery, Sotheby's is authorized to and will rescind the
sale and refund the purchase price received by it. A forgery is
defined as a work created with intent to deceive."
This very unusual statement (see The
City Review story on "Attributions")
is immediately followed by a "Glossary of Terms" that
seems to contradict the rationale of the "absence of guarantee."
A person in the department said that this phrasing was not
new with this catalogue.
The glossary reads as follows:
"The following are examples of the terminology
used in this catalogue. Please note that care is taken to insure
that any statement as to authorship, attribution, origin, date,
age, provenance and condition is reliable and accurate. Although
all such statements are based on the most recent scholarship in
this field and are statements of opinions, no such statement is
intended to constitute a guarantee as noted below. We reserve
the right in forming opinions to consult and rely upon any expert
or authority reasonably considered by us to be reliable.
Glossary For Chinese Paintings
With respect to our attribution of authorship
as set forth in paragraph 2 of the Terms of Guarantee, the following
A. Huang Gongwang
The work is ascribed to the named artist and
such ascription is considered reliable by us. While this is our
highest category of authenticity in the present catalogue, and
is assigned only upon assigned only upon exercise of our best
judgment as to authorship is made or intended. [Editor's note:
this sentence is precisely as printed in the catalogue.]
B. Attributed to Huang Gongwang
In our best judgment, the work can be ascribed
to the artist on the basis of style, but less certainty as to
authorship is expressed than in the preceeding category.
C. Style of Huang Gongwang
In our best judgment, a work in the style of
the artist, but not by him and probably of a later period.
In our best judgment, a work of no definite
The Sotheby's catalogue contains an essay on C. C. Wang by Richard
M. Barnhardt, the John M. Schiff Professor of Art History at Yale
University, who served as one of three "outside" consultants
brought in by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to appraise the value
of a purchase of 25 early Chinese paintings from C. C. Wang by
the museum in 1973 and the subject of an extensive series of articles,
entitled "Chinagate," related to their controversial
attributions in The City Review. See Chinagate,
original, edited story that was written
for but did not appear in The New York Times, truncated
story that appeared in The Times, Chinagate
Revisited, which relates to a gift earlier this year of more paintings
from the C. C. Wang collection, New York
Post's Page Six reporting of the story, major
donor threatens to withdraw Chinese paintings and casts doubts
on centerpiece of recent gift of C. C. Wang paintings, second Page Six reference to the series,
and article on recent article by Carl Nagin
in The New Yorker magazine report further doubts about centerpiece
of recent gift and revealing that a Sotheby's specialist in this
sale is a grandson of C. C. Wang.
Professor Barnhardt is a disciple of Wen Fong,
a consultant to the Metropolitan Museum who is a professor of
art at Princeton University and has orchestrated virtually all
of the museum's controversial acquisitions of Chinese paintings
for the past quarter century and whose attributions of alleged
masterpieces have often run counter to the opinion of many other
In his essay, Professor Barnhardt praises C.
C. Wang as "distinguished as one of the most accomplished
Chinese landscape painters of the twentieth century," adding
that "less well known to the public, perhaps, is the role
that C. C. Wang has played throughout his long and active lifetime
as a collector and connoisseur of Chinese painting."
"In this confluence of activities as painter,
collector, and connoisseur," the essay continued, "he
will inevitably remind students of Chinese art history of his
most distinguished predecessors: Mi Fu (1052-1107/8), Dong Qichang
(1555-1636), and Chang Dai-chien (1899-1983)
.It is certainly
appropriate to link the names of C. C. Wang and Chang Dai-chien
as the two greatest Chinese collector-connoisseurs of the twentieth
century. Chang, from the culturally bold and innovative western
province of Sichuan, and Wang, born and raised in the bastion
of traditional literati painting, Suzhou, but educated in the
great international cities of Shanghai and New York, between them
have done more than anyone in our time to collect, study, authenticate,
preserve, and evaluate the art of classical Chinese painting for
.C.C. Wang became my teacher when I first saw parts
of his collection as a graduate student at Princeton, and Chang
Dai-chien is still remembered vividly by all of us who were there
for his occasional visits to see the cherry blossoms and to delight
us with his eccentric personality and provocative views - and
with his dazzling demonstrations of Chinese painting techniques.
Chang Dai-chien's great collection is now scattered among the
distinguished museums of the world, as is much of that of C. C.
Wang. But the C. C. Wang family Collection still remains a significant
entity, even as great treasures bearing the collector's seals
of Mr. Wang hang in exhibition in the galleries of museums from
New York to Cleveland, Kansas City, and San Francisco."
Noting that Chinese painting remains "undervalued"
in the art market, Professor Barnhardt remarked that while "the
works that have been, or are now in his collection stand for the
highest standard that can be attained in this difficult and challenging
realm of activity" "this does not mean that every object
is a masterpiece, or that the exact historical character of every
work is beyond all possibility of question."
"What it does mean." Professor Barnhardt
continued, "is that there is nothing in the collection of
C. C. Wang that is not truly interesting for students of Chinese
art, nothing that does not warrant careful attention and genuine
appreciation. There are, in other words, no better criteria for
identifying the value and quality of a Chinese painting today
than the seals of C. C. Wang," who was himself the author
of an important study of early collectors' seals.
Professor Barnhardt also notes that the Sept.
22 auction, and acquisitions by the Metropolitan Museum of works
from his collection, have not exhausted his supply of "truly
interesting" subjects for students of Chinese art:
"Still in the C. C. Wang Family Collection
are outstanding works of art ascribed to painters as diverse as
Wu Zongyuan (died, ca. 1050), Ma Yuan (active 1190-1220), Yan
Hui (active late 13th c.), Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), Shen Zhou
(1427-1509), Bada Shanren (1626-1705), Shitao (1642-1707), and
many others. In other words, in spite of dramatic and highly publicized
acquisitions of major groups of important paintings from his collection
by museums over the years, and the dedication of the new C. C.
Wang family gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art commemorating
the sixty or more works of art that have entered the museum from
C. C. Wang, the C. C. Wang family collection still remains the
most important private collection of Chinese painting in the world."
Professor Barnhardt cites two New York Times
articles on C. C. Wang's paintings and the Metropolitan Museum,
each announcing the acquisitions, but neglected to cite my article
in The Times about the controversy over many of the attributions
of the first acquisition of 25 paintings, nor my "Chinagate"
articles in The City Review. He also does not discuss Chang Dai-chien's
talents as a forger, perhaps the greatest in history, nor the
fact that his seal appears on Lot 34 in the auction, "Landscape,"
attributed in the catalogue to Shitao. The catalogue uses the
more current spelling of Chang Dai-chien's name, Zhang Daqian,
in its description of the seals on the hanging scroll, which carries
one of the most highest estimates, $200,000 to $250,000, in the
The propriety of the auction house
having a "specialist" related to a major consignor to
the department has drawn some criticism.
One leading expert in the field, who spoke
only on condition of remaining anonymous, said that "people
are extremely uncomfortable and both collectors and dealers think
it is improper for a myriad of reasons."
The same expert noted that while "C.
C. Wang is very respected, there is always a little whiz of controversy,"
adding that some of the lots in the Sotheby sale of paintings
from his collection were "questionable and bear very optimistic
attributions and estimates." The expert said that a
Chinese language newspaper, World Journal, has carried several
stories recently about C.C. Wang's Chinese paintings and quoted
his son as maintaining that they are "genuine" and as
being "outraged" at suggestions that some of the attributions
may be inaccurate.
Another prominent person in the dealer community,
who also spoke "not for attribution," said that while
the auction house may not be breaking any law as it functons as
a seller's agent, "ethically it poses lots of interesting
questions." "If Al Taubman were to sell some art,
you would not expect him to offer it at Christie's," he said,
referring to the chairman of Sotheby's. He did say, however,
that perhaps such connections should be clearly noted in catalogues
to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Andrew Wang's familial
relationship with C. C. Wang is not disclosed in the catalogue
and he was present at the auction's exhibition to answer questions
about lots for prospective buyers as is the custom with department
One Chinese Art dealer observed that such
"coincidences" happen "in the natural course of
business," adding that many department heads or "specialists"
at auction houses are expected to bring in business. (9/19)
The Sotheby auction
was not a success as 19 of the 37 lots offered failed to sell. The October issue of Art News magazine carried
a display ad, on page 28, for a painting by C. C. Wang, "Inspiration,"
at the L. J. Wender Fine Chinese Art gallery at 3 East 80th
Street in New York. It also carried a four-page article
by Barbara Pollack on C. C. Wang, "Buying to Learn Collector-Scholar-Painter
C. C. Wang, 90, Bridges East and West, Past and Present.
She quotes C. C. Wang (Wang Chi-ch'ien) as
saying that "I bought some things for study purposes,"
adding that "In China, there were no good museums to study,
so you had to buy to learn."
"Born into an aristocratic family in Suzhou,
the grandson of an advisor to the Manchurian emperor, Wang began
painting when he was 15. He went on to study law and continued
painting, under the tutelage of Gu Linshi and Wu Hufan, a leader
of the literati school in Shanghai. By the time he was 28,
he was already acting as a link between East and West, selecting
works from the Imperial Palace collection for the 1935 exhibition
at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the first time they were
shown outside China," Pollack wrote.
When Wang first visited the United States in
1947, she continued, he was "hired briefly by Alan Priest,
a curator of Asian art at the Met." "Priest had
purchased a large collection of Chinese paintings in 1942 for
several hundred thousand dollars, much to the museum board's consternation.
He hired Wang to validate the purchase. Wang recalls,
'The paintings were not bad, but I did not like them.'"
Wang, the article continued, found himself
"stranded" in the United States after the Communist
take-over in China and as "Asian scholars in the West were
being barred from doing research in China" Wang "became
an invaluable resource."
"At the time," Pollack wrote, "Zhang
Daqian, the other preeminent collector of Chinese paintings, who
had bought works directly fromthe Imperial family in the 1920's,
arrived and stayed with Wang. The two men began buying and
trading together, in a market where few others appreciated the
material they were assembling. (Wang acquired The Riverbank
[the alleged centerpiece of the Metropolitan Museum's recent acquisition
of a second group of Chinese Paintings from C. C. Wang] through
a trade with Zhang Daqian in the early 1950's.)"
This fact was not disclosed in the front page
article of The New York Times on the museum's acquisition in which
the painting, allegedly by Dong Yuan, was described as the "Mona
Lisa" of Chinese painting.
"It took more than 20 years for experts
in the United States to catch up with Wang's understanding of
Chinese art. In the early 1970's, the then director Thomas
Hoving and president Douglas Dillon decided to make a concerted
effort to upgrade the Met's Asian art department and hired Wen
C. Fong as its consultative chairman. Fong made it clear
that an acquisition of the core of Wang's collection would immediately
make the museum a first-class institution in terms of Chinese
painting. In 1973, the Met purchased over 30 works from
Wang. Concurrently, another trustee there, John Crawford,
Jr., acquired Zhang Daqian's collection. And this year,
eleven additional works were purchased by Wang by financier Oscar
Tang as a gift to the museum."
Ms. Pollack makes no mention of the controversy
that developed in 1976 over the 1973 acquisition. A story
written by me in The Times revealed that the museum had not only
been misleading in its representation of the material but also
that many experts were not in agreement on some of the attributions.
Ms. Pollack also makes no mention of the controversy as
it evolved further in 1997 with further disclosures in The City
Review that were reported twice on Page Six of the New York Post.
Nor does she indicate that John Crawford Jr. was himself
highly critical of several of the works in the 1973 acquisition
from Wang by the Met.
Ms. Pollack does report in her Art News article
that Carl Nagin noted in The New Yorker magazine that James Cahill,
professor emeritus of art history at the University of California,
Berkeley, doubted the authenticity of The Riverbank painting,
"thereby, as Nagin sees it, questioning Wang's integrity."
Cahill is quoted by Pollack as stating: "I
am one of the most fervent admirers of C. C. Wang, and we are
old friends. I have doubts about the painting, but I don't
think it has to be tied to doubts about Wang." Cahill
told Pollack that he has "never quite swallowed his idea
that brushwork is what you see in a picture."
Pollack goes on to quote Wen Fong as maintaining
that the Met would not have bought The Riverbank "if
we didn't think it was right, and we are preparing a definitive
study to prove it."
Fong told Pollack that "the academic world
is free and everyone can have an opinion." This comment
is the first hint that Fong and the museum admit to dissenting
opinions. It is not clear from the context of Pollack's
article whether Fong was conceding a major point, or doubt, or
being gracious, or condescending.
Pollack wrote that Wang "had wanted many
of the works he acquired to return to China, including The
Riverbank," adding that he "often contacted the
Chinese Government to see if the National Palace Museum would
be interested." "But I never heard from them.
I suppose they had more important things to take care of,"
he told Pollack.
Pollack reported that 40 works remaining in
Wang's collections were to be auctioned at Sotheby's ("with
the estimate at $3 million"), and quoted his grandson, Andrew
Wang, "a specialist in the Asian department" at the
auction house, as maintaining that "works of this quality,
such as the 15th Century painting Snowy Mountain Landscape by
Ming Dynasty master Shen Zhou, rarely come to auction and are
not fully appreciated by Western collectors.
It was "passed" and did not find
a buyer at the auction.(10/10)