This is the drastically rewritten and
greatly shortened Chinagate article that appeared in The Times,
complete with typos. The author was presented with this truncated,
toned-down version with about 10 minutes to go before final deadline
and asked if he wanted his byline on it. He reluctantly agreed
as he had insufficient time to recover from his shock.
By Carter B. Horsley
Did the artist really do the painting,
and if so, when? Or was it done by a talented apprentice? Such
questions, long pondered by scholars of Western Art, are now beginning
to surface in the more esoteric field of Oriental art, as the
latter is increasingly shown on the museum circuit.
The more ancient the art the less solvable
such questions are by scholarly methods, particularly when, as
in some Oriental arts, there is a long tradition of copying. But
scholars, trained to be disputatious, continue to whet their wits
by posing - and sometimes answering - them.
The latest provocation for such dispute in
the Oriental field is a group of 25 early Chinese paintings acquired
by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $2.5 million in 1973, some
of which are now on view at the museum in an exhibition of Chinese
Several paintings in the group, including at
least one that is the exhibition, have prompted questions from
scholars regarding their attribution. In addition, two officials
of other leading museums say that the grading system used in appraising
the paintings, at the Metropolitan's request, has been publicly
disclosed in misleading fashion by the museum.
So far, the Metropolitan has published three
books about the collection, which was purchased from Chi Chuan
Wang, a New York collector and dealer. The museum is standing
by its previous statements about the purchase, described by Thomas
P. F. Hoving, director of the Metropolitan, as "one of the
finer moments in the collecting history of the institution."
The catalogue was done by Wen Fong, Edwards
Sanford Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University,
a consultant since 1971 to the museum's department of Far Eastern
art, who made the selection from Mr. Wang's collection for the
The catalogue flatly attributions 20 of the
25 paintings to leading masters of the Sung and Yuan dynasties,
dating from the latter part of the 10th century through the middle
of the 14th, a century generally regarded as the high point of
Chinese painting. Mr. Fong said that the attributions were his
"considered best judgments."
In an article in the last issue of the journal
Artibus Asiae, 1975, Ellen Johnson Laing discussed a painting,
"Knick-knack Peddler," attributed by the Metropolitan
to Li-Sung, who flourished between 1190 and 1230, maintaining
that several technical aspects of the painting were not on a part
with three signed and dated versions by the same artists and one
other work "which can be unequivocally accepted as genuine."
In The Times Literary Supplement last Dec.
19 William Watson wrote a general favorable review of the Metropolitan's
works showing London questioned several paintings. Of "Summer
Mountains," centerpiece of the museum's exhibition, and attributed
by it to Ch's Ting, active about 1203 to 1056, he said that since
the artist's work was unknown except by literary notice, the painting
could not be "easily attributed by style."
He also had reservations about paintings attributed
to Ch'ien Hsuan (1235-1300), Li T'ang (1050-1130), Ni Tsan (1301-1374)
and Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322).
As for the Metropolitan's grading system, according
to a press release issued by the museum, Sherman Lee, director
of the Cleveland Museum of Art; Laurence Sickman, director of
the Nelson Gallery-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, and Richard Barnhart,
a scholar who is cataloging the Wang collection, were asked to
"grade each work from A, the category of highest quality,
to D, unacceptable."
But none of the three agreed on the basis on
which they were grading the works. In separate interviews, Mr.
Barnhart accepted the Metropolitan's criteria, but Mr. Lee and
Mr. Sickman did not.
In Mr. Lee's version of the grading of the
22 paintings he "marked" he indicated that he felt seven
were not by the artists and of a different period.
Mr. Sickman said that he had used "triple
A if it was really a good painting and I would want it in my collection."
He gave triple A's to three works.
Thomas Lawton, the assistant director of the
Freer Gallery, said in an interview that a letter who wrote to
the Metropolitan at its request praising the quality of Mr. Wang's
entire collection was excerpted by the museum for public release
so that the praise seemed to refer to those works it had selected.
"I was rather surprised," Mr. Lawton declared in an
interview, "when I got to the opening and did not see some
of the very important paintings included."