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[This is the complete, exclusive story in its final edited form that was scheduled to be the off-lead of The New York Times and jump to a full inside page with five illustrations almost 20 years ago.  This story never appeared, nor did the illustrations included here, although a much, much shorter story that was rewritten to minimize its impact appeared on a inside page of The Times several months later.  An update is also posted on The City Review as well as a story on the Tang gift of more C. C. Wang paintings in 1997.]

Chinese Art Acquisitions at Metropolitan Challenged

By Carter B. Horsley

The acquisition of 25 early Chinese paintings by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1973 has come under sharp criticism by leading scholars, dealers and collectors who contend that many of the works are wrongly attributed and inaccurately dated. Several of the works may even be modern forgeries.

Only one of the 25 paintings was unanimously accepted by 16 experts in recent, separate interviews and that was attributed to an anonymous Academy painter. The experts, while not unanimous in all of their opinions, generally agreed that the museum's attributions and dates were wrong in eight instances and there was significant dissent over another 10 paintings. There were eight paintings on which at least one of the authorities suggested that the work was modern. Seven paintings were widely accepted as described by the museum but they were all considered slight and minor works, or copies. Ten of the experts spoke on the record. The disagreement on dating usually involved a difference of a dynasty or a few centuries.

Some of the experts have also questioned a grading system used by three outside experts who were asked by the museum to evaluate the paintings as part of a highly publicized effort to promote greater public disclosure of its actions. They argue that the system made it appear to the public that the experts had rated the paintings higher than they actually had.

The purchase of the paintings was hailed by Thomas P. F. Hoving, the museum's director, as "one of the finer moments in the collecting history of the institution." The paintings were acquired from Chi Chuan Wang, a collector and dealer who lives in Manhattan. The price was not disclosed by the museum, but it is believed to have been at least $2.5 million.

The museum has given the paintings wide exposure. This month, they went on exhibition at the British Museum in London. And the Metropolitan has just published a $35 book on one of them, entitled "Summer Mountains," its third book relating to the acquisition. The book was written by Wen Fong, a consultant since 1971 to the museum's Department of Far Eastern Art and the Edwards Sanford Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University, who initiated the acquisition from Mr. Wang.

The paintings were described by the museum when it announced their purchase in July, 1973, as "highly important" and, in its subsequently published catalogue, 22 of them were attributed to leading masters of the Sung and Yuan dynasties, dating from the latter part of the 10th Century through the middle of the 14th Century, generally regarded as the high point of Chinese painting.

Several of the experts said that they felt that perhaps five or six of the paintings acquired by the museum were important, but some were even more critical in their appraisals. Many commented that Mr. Wang did not part with many of his finest paintings. Thomas Lawton, the assistant director of the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., said that excerpts made public from a letter he wrote to the Metropolitan at its request in which he praised the quality of Mr. Wang's collection referred to his entire collection rather than those selected by the museum. When it released the excerpts the museum did not clarify this point. "I was rather surprised," Mr. Lawton said in an interview, "when I got to the opening" and did not see some of the very important paintings included.

Nelson I. Wu, professor of art and archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., said that the controversy over the acquisition "can set scholarship back." "Who policies the field?" he asked. Mr. Wu said he raised some questions about the Metropolitan's acquisition at a conference on figure painting held at the Freer Gallery in late 1973, but to date no scholarly articles on any of the paintings has appeared.

"How can we go on teaching students when things like this are not challenged. The printed word is very powerful and weighs heavily on the psychology of the student. We have to leave a reliable legacy for the next generation. It's a matter of clearing the air about scholarship to establish trust in colleague's minds who are in Western art so that on the one hand we can have the trust of the public and on the other we can teach our students....We can be polarized in theory but should not be polarized on facts," Mr. Wu said, adding that his comments were made with "sadness and reluctance."

One scholar remarked about the hesitancy with which the relatively small community of experts in the field had entered the controversy and said that "it's very, very sticky because these are friends, there is a lot of money and a lot of professional prestige involved." Several of the paintings have been widely published.

Richard Edwards, professor of Far Eastern Art at the University of Michigan, said that the museum "should have been more careful in its selection." "One has to approach this with a little more sense of the hazards and cannot be too positive in attribution in terms of the difficulties of our knowledge of this time....[The collection should] have been a little more weeded and [Mr. Wang] forced to come up with the important ones," Mr. Edwards said.

Several experts said that since the acquisition prices of Chinese paintings have gone up dramatically and that the purchase had greatly inflated values. Sherman E. Lee, the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, said he did not like "package deals" which do "something artificial to the market which affects all the other museums and makes life a lot more difficult." Mr. Lee said that his museum had already rejected the acquisition of several of Mr. Wang's paintings that the Metropolitan bought.

Mr. Hoving wrote in the Metropolitan's catalogue of the Wang paintings that the acquisition required "a painstaking system of study and analysis by which each work proposed for acquisition was figuratively peeled like an onion."

Before the purchase three outside experts - Mr. Lee, Laurence Sickman, the director of the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery in Kansas City, and Richard Barnhart, a scholar who is preparing a catalogue of Mr. Wang's collection - were asked by the Metropolitan to grade the paintings and give comments on them. Officials of other museums were also asked to comment on the importance of such an acquisition to the Metropolitan.

Mr. Lee, who with Mr. Sickman is regarded not only as one of the most highly respected museum directors in the country but also as a leading authority in the field of Chinese art, said that he had understood that his comments on the paintings were to be treated confidentially by the Metropolitan. "I remember that...there had been some telephoning and arm-twisting getting me to revise some of my earlier judgments...but I never for one moment dreamed they were going to release" the comments "without my permission." "Words fail me," he said with regard to the "leaking" of the comments, which were contained in the 30-page appendix of expert commentary and grading that accompanied the museum's press release about the acquisition.

In its press release, the Museum stated that "each scholar was asked to grade each work from A, the category of highest quality, to D, unacceptable." Many scholars felt this gave the impression that all of the paintings were of a very high quality since the lowest grade given by any of the three outside experts was B- and no C's nor D's were given. The acquisition came at a time when the museum had been criticized on its deaccessioning policies and its acquisition of the Euphronius vase and the museum was eager to demonstrate a policy of greater public disclosure.

Last week, however, Mr. Lee revealed in an interview that perhaps the method of grading employed by the outside experts was not that stated by the museum. He said he understood that the grading was based more or less on the lists of Oswald Siren, a leading authority on the subject who published "lists in which A meant probably by the artist and of the period and B meant probably not by the artist and not of the period." "A+ is super quality and B- is a very low grade meaning really later and not of great interest," Mr. Lee continued. Of the 22 paintings on which he had given the Metropolitan grades and comments, he gave seven various grades of B, indicating he felt they were not by the artist and of a different period. In the recent interview, he said that two of the other three paintings acquired by the museum he would have given Bs. He also said that he was now inclined to lower his grade to B's on two that he had previously given A's. The only painting in the group that he gave a A+, meaning super quality, was "Summer Mountains," but he said he was "not all that certain" that it was by the artist the Metropolitan claimed.

The Dillon Fund, established by Douglas Dillon, the president of the museum, gave 10 of the 25 paintings as a gift to the museum. The remaining 15 were purchased directly from Mr. Wang, "almost entirely through the use of proceeds from dispersals listed in the ...Report on Art Transactions 1971-1973, in particular, from the use of funds realized from the April [1973] sale of coins in Zurich," the museum said in its original press release. "The remainder required to complete the purchase came from regularly available income of funds legally restricted to use for the purchase of works of art and unavailable for other purposes," it said.

The paintings consisted of seven hanging scrolls, 10 handscrolls, seven individual album leaves and one album of poetry with 11 illustrations. The museum maintained that clear title existed for all of the paintings and that Mr. Wang had come to this country in 1949 with the paintings from Hong Kong where there was no export restriction on art. It pointed out that 10 of the paintings once belonged, allegedly, to the Imperial Collection and were given away or sold by Pu Yi, the deposed Ch'ing emperor between 1911 and 1924. In 1925, the imperial palaces in Peking with all of their contents were nationalized.

In announcing the acquisition more than two years ago, Wen Fong said that "with the coming to the Metropolitan Museum of these magnificent works from the C. C. Wang collection, a great gap has been filled not only in the Department of Far Eastern Art but in the museum as a whole." The museum's press release declared that its holdings of Chinese paintings had "been considered inadequate by specialists in the field...[and] included only a handful of Sung and Yuan masterworks."

About 20 years ago, the Metropolitan acquired 150 Chinese paintings, mostly attributed to the Sung and Yuan periods from a private collection for about $450,000. Today, the overwhelming majority of that purchase is considered inferior and not as originally attributed. One scholar observed that "the same amount of money at that time could have just about cleaned up the market of good things." One leading private collector remarked of the Wang purchase that "it's like history repeating itself."

Although the Metropolitan's collection of early Chinese paintings was not as impressive as that of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, or the museums in Cleveland and Kansas City, it did contain several widely accepted early masterpieces and, in fact, five of the artists allegedly included in the Wang purchase were already represented at the Metropolitan. In addition to the major works not sold to the museum by Mr. Wang, there are several other masterpieces still in private collections in New York City by major artists not represented today at the museum. These include a spectacular painting by the Sung emperor Hui-Tsung and a very rare Kuo-Hsi in the John Crawford collection, which is regarded as one of the greatest privately held in the world, and what is generally regarded as the best T'ang Ti in the world which is on loan to the Brooklyn Museum from another private collection.

American scholars are generally held to be at the forefront of scholarship and connoisseurship on Chinese painting, but until relatively recently there were few who were fluent in the language, which is critically important to a full appreciation of the paintings because of the important role of calligraphy and seals on the works. Painting, calligraphy and poetry are viewed together as a trinity and the highest expression of Chinese art. Artists and collectors have traditionally written poems and appraisals on the paintings as well as place their personal seals on them and the seals themselves became an important visual component. Many artists and collectors had more than one seal of many of these have survived, greatly aiding the forger's work and complicating the problems of authenticity.

James Cahill, professor of Chinese art at the University of California at Berkeley, said that if the Metropolitan had "backed off a little bit on the attributions it would have had more leeway." Mr. Sickman concluded that the museum "got five or six extremely fine paintings," but added that it would be "misleading to say that all 25 paintings are masterpieces." "The forger's art is very high indeed," he said. Shujiro Shimada, retired professor of art at Princeton University who is widely regarded as one of the world's foremost authorities in the field, said "there are lots of problems about most of the paintings" and another scholar remarked that "anyone trying to get 25 Sung and Yuan paintings is crazy."

One collector argued that "calling in experts puts a man on the spot because they are not buying for their own institutions and there is a natural inclination to be a little less critical." The use of outside experts, he continued, is "not flattering" to the staff of the institution they are advising. He conceded that often trustees might not want to be bothered with many relatively inexpensive individual acquisitions and respond quickly to large package deals with publicity potential.

When asked if a later copy of an original work is still important, Mr. Cahill said "no." "If you thought you had bought a Renaissance painting and in fact you had an 18th Century painting and you discovered this you'd put them in the basement. It's the same thing," he said.

Relevant comments on some of the more disputed of the 25 paintings in question follow the museum's catalogue attributions:

"Summer Mountains" attributed to Ch'ü Ting

"Summer Mountains" attributed by the Metropolitan to Ch'ü Ting

"Summer Mountains" Ch'ü Ting (active 1023-1056). The museum originally attributed this handscroll to Yen Wen-Kuei but changed the attribution to a follower, Ch'ü Ting in its catalogue. Yen Wen-Kuei (active about 988-1010) was, along with Fan K'uan and Li-Ch'eng, an important master of the Northern Sung period (960-1127) who specialized in monumental rocky mountain landscapes. In his catalogue text, Wen Fong wrote that "perhaps we should be content to leave Summer Mountains as the work of an anonymous master of, say, the second quarter of the 11th Century." "There is, however," he added, "a possibility of attaching a name to this master....Three paintings by Ch'ü Ting, all entitled Summer Scenery ...were recorded as being in the Sung emperor Hui-tsung's collection. It is possible that Summer Mountains, which shows Hui-tsung's seals, is one of these paintings." The painting bears no artist's signature nor artist seals.

Mr. Cahill said in an interview that "I object generally to stating on one page that three paintings by an artist were once mentioned and this might be one of them and two pages later stating this is Ch'ü Ting. Not even attributed. Not even possibly by. That you can't do properly and that's not good scholarly practice." In the recently published book on the painting, Wen Fong attributes the painting again to Ch'ü Ting.

Many experts believe that the painting dates from the Southern Sung period (1127-1260), or at least 75 years after Ch'ü Ting died. Mr. Cahill said it dates to "probably the 12th or 13th Century, more likely the 12th." Mr. Edwards said "Ch'ü Ting? that's rather going a little far...It's very mature and very beautifully painting relatively late in Sung. I'd go along with early 12th Century."

Max Loehr of the Fogg Museum and for many years professor of Chinese art at Harvard University, said "the outlines of rock and the lavish use of small bushes and trees looks Southern Sung. There is no evidence of Ch'ü Ting of whom we know nothing except the brief description in the Imperial catalogue of 1120....I would not rank it among the supreme masterpieces of Sung."

Other experts even suggested that it might be later than Southern Sung. Professor Wu said that Sung painters depicted reality and their mountains met water with clear-cut sharp edges whereas the Yuan Dynasty (1260-1368) painters were more lyrical in handling the interplay of the land and water such as is evidenced in this painting. Another scholar felt it was probably a late Yuan work because "there is a little too much decoration and unconsciously beautiful patterns." Mr. Shimada maintained that it was "quite late, possibly Ming" (1368-1644) and had been cut down on all sides.

"Nine Songs" after Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322). Mr. Lee said the painting was "a dog." "Whether the last 30 to 40 years or 200 years ago, it's just not very good," he said. Mr. Edwards said it was "Ming or maybe even early Ch'ing (1644-1912). Mr. Sickman said "I don't care for this." Mr. Cahill said "this is really a fake," and several collectors and other scholars felt it was probably a modern fake. Mr. Shimada said "the painting can be by anyone. There is no sign of Chao Meng-fu." The album was once in the collection of Chang Ta-Ch'ien, a contemporary painter who is widely regarded in the field as perhaps the greatest forger of all time. "The first picture I bought for the Cleveland Museum is a forgery by Chang Ta-Ch'ien and I hope it's the last," Mr. Lee said.

Detail of "Twin Pines" by Chao Meng-fu

Detail, slightly distorted, of "Twin Pines Against A Flat Vista," by Chao Meng-fu

"Twin Pines Against a Flat Vista" by Chao Meng-fu. Along with Ch'ien Hsuan, Chao Meng-fu is credited historically with initiating an "archaistic" revival of ancient styles and at the same time applying a free, calligraphic approach to his brushwork. There is an identical painting in the Cincinnati Art Museum, which is not mentioned by the Metropolitan Museum. Mr. Cahill said that he considered the Metropolitan version a copy but that the Cincinnati was a copy of the Metropolitan painting. "There could still be a real Chao Meng-fu somewhere," he said, adding that he felt the Metropolitan copy was "maybe Ming." Mr. Cahill said that the Cincinnati version is "from a known series of exact facsimiles...(that were sold some time ago to a New York gallery and are) now in museums all over the country." He said the facsimiles were allegedly made by a Shanghai group of specialists. Mr. Cahill said the Freer Gallery had two of them. "It's the truth," according to Mr. Lawton of the Freer who said that the paintings were allegedly by Chu Te-run and Sheng Mou and the originals of both are in Peking. "From what I understand there was one specialist in seals, another in calligraphy and another in painting. Paintings would come into their hands" and they would work from the originals often, he said. Daniel Walker of the Cincinnati Museum said it was aware of differing opinions on its version which is on permanent exhibition attributed to Chao Meng-fu. He added that the attribution will be studied in the future.

Mr. Lee, who has twice published the painting as a Chao Meng-fu said that he is now "almost convinced" that the Metropolitan version is a copy. He said the Cincinnati version was a forgery made in the last 20 years. Regarding the Metropolitan painting, he said "I may have made a mistake." "If it's a copy, it's a beauty. If it's a copy, probably 17th Century. There is an uncertain, by-rote handling of the brushwork which would seem to indicate the possibility of a copy. I'm still inclined to think (it is) O.K., but there is room for question," he said. Mr. Sickman said "Both can't be right." "It would be darn interesting to have the two together," he added.

Mr. Shimada said that both were copies. A leading scholar in Sweden, Per-Olow Leijon, was quoted by a collector here as believing that the Metropolitan painting was done in the 17th Century.

"Woods and Valleys of Yü-shan" by Ni Tsan

"Woods and Valleys of Yü-shan," by Ni Tsan

"Woods and Valleys of Yü-shan" by Ni Tsan (1301-1374). Ni Tsan is considered one of the four great late Yuan masters along with Wang Meng (1310-1385), Huang Kung-wang (1269-1354) and Wu Chen (1280-1354). Ni Tsan was considered to be a poet of loneliness and his work, which was influential for centuries, is devoid of people. Mr. Lee said that several other paintings acquired by the Metropolitan from Mr. Wang had been considered for purchase by the Cleveland Museum and rejected. He said he regarded this in the same vein as he did the Chao Meng-fu "Twin Peaks" and said the Ni Tsan was retouched and "this produces cold gray area." Ni Tsan supposedly treasured ink as if it were gold and was economic in its use, according to tradition. Several experts suggested that the painting might be a modern copy stating that "there are much, much too many dots" which are supposed to present patches of moss. These dots are used as accents by artists of the period and are usually applied in quick staccato fashion during which the brush thins out of paint. One leading authority has reversed his former acceptance of the work as authentic and said "it is kind of routine and stiff and the brushwork doesn't have a kind of vitality."

Mr. Loehr observed that "the distribution of the moss dots is as though lacking in a necessity." "You could imagine that somebody may feel that some of these have been added by a different hand, somebody who couldn't well leave alone. In the best Ni Tsan which I can think of there would be a bit more of an orderly structure, a steely order...a most austere atmosphere, austere touch," he said. Mr. Shimada said "I don't have any enthusiasm for this painting." A collector said "there is too much fooling around and lots of areas of abrasion," adding that he would not buy it and that Mr. Wang has another Ni Tsan which is widely accepted.

"Bamboo and Rock" by Li K'an (1245-1320). Mr. Lee said that he now considers this painting to be a copy, done between the 15th Century and contemporary time, "after seeing a very similar work in Peking which was a million times better." Mr. Sickman, whose museum has a major work by the same artist, but in a completely different style, said "It's just not my taste, maybe something whipped out on a rainy day." A collector said he did not like the picture "at all; it's hard-boiled, very academic, unattractive; no redeeming feature." Mr. Shimada and Mr. Edwards said it was a Ming painting.

"Landscape" by Wang Meng. All the outside experts gave this painting B's. Virtually all authorities considered the painting to be slight and opinions are divided on whether it is a modern copy or fake, or an early work by the artist, another of the four great late Yuan masters.

Mr. Sickman said "As Oswald Siren would say, 'In this case, the attribution is not so obvious.'" Several experts who feel it is modern termed it "outright zero," "choppy," "odd contrasts and quite atypical," "blatantly wrong, nothing right, no knowledge of form, screwy feet." Mr. Shimada said "I don't accept it. I'm not interested in the painting at all. I can't accept it as Yuan."

Although he said it was "probably an early work," Mr. Loehr said the painting needs further study because it was "a bit unfamiliar in subject matter, not crowded as in his usual compositions, the wide and open expanse of the sky and water are features which are unfamiliar, the treatment of the trees does occur but there is a certain nakedness abut them which is quite a contrast to the usually crammed Wang Meng composition - nearly always mountains which push upward and take shape before your eyes." He added that the ground near the figures seemed "raw," but liked the "animated and harmonious" rock outlines which were in his style. Mr. Cahill and Mr. Lee accepted it as an early work of the artist but emphasized that it was not an important painting.

"Marquis Wen-Kung of Chin Recovering His State" by Li T'ang (active 1120-40), with text written by the Sung emperor Kao-tsung (reigned 1127-62). Experts almost unanimously dated this painting considerably later than the museum. Most suggested dates that were middle Ming.

Mr. Lee said that it was probably 14th Century and Mr. Sickman said the attribution "should certainly be studied" and that other criticisms were "all correct" in pointing out that the rendering of the chariot wheel was careless, that the tree roots were too sinuous, that the rocks were soft, that the clouds were mannered and static, that the figures were by a different hand from the landscape and that the modeling was rather thin." Mr. Cahill said the drawing was "not up to the hand of a master, it was kind of stiff and could be a 14th Century copy" or later.

Mr. Loehr said that the tree and rock combinations appeared as "slightly conventionalized Li T'ang," that the clouds "lack the extreme sensitivity which you take for granted in the period...(and) in none of these trees do you have that marvelous density as in the Taipei painting dated 1124 of the two in Kyoto." Furthermore, Mr. Loehr wondered whether the carelessness in the painting was possible "at the same time as Ching Ming Shang Ho Lu "Spring Festival on the River," a masterpiece in Peking that establishes standards for an accurate observation of detail and perspective and I would be surprised if in that period a painter who became director of the Imperial Academy in Hang Chow would by comparison seem lagging."

Mr. Edwards, who has made a major study of the artist, conceded that the painting was probably a 14th Century copy, or about 200 years later than the museum maintains, but suggested that it was nevertheless important for providing an idea of Li T'ang's varied style. The artist was extremely influential, especially in his "axe-chip" brushstrokes which as known as t'sun.

"Narcissi," attributed by the museum to Chao Meng-chien

Detail of "Narcissi," attributed by the Metropolitan to Chao Meng-chien

"Narcissi" by Chao Meng-chien (1199-1267?). The only experts to accept this painting are Mr. Barnhart and Mr. Sickman. Dating by other authorities ran the gamut from 14th Century to modern. Mr. Lee said it was a 14th to a 15th Century copy and "could be later, a very stiff, boring picture." Mr. Loehr said that "the few other Chao Meng-chien narcissi paintings extant are much more sparing and quiet and not quite so overwhelming in the array of flowers and plants. They are built up as symphonies. There is a certain harshness in these passages of terrain and ground and grasses as though it had been executed without love." Mr. Shimada said it was a Ming copy or later and that the painting was "a complete mystery...a few other paintings by the artists have a more definite and restricted way of drawing particularly in the ink tonalities. This is quite different from others...I don't like it at all." Mr. Cahill said he would not accept it and Mr. Edwards said "to attribute it to a master seems to me a little off."

"Returning Fisherman" by T'ang Ti (1296-1364), a pupil of Chao Meng-fu. This is one of the paintings that Mr. Lee said the Metropolitan had "twisted" his arm. "I have my doubts....The water is stiff and the figures are not terribly interesting," he said. Mr. Shimada said that this and a version in the Palace Collection in Taiwan which has an identical grouping of figures "are copies both of an earlier work." "T'ang Ti is better than this," he said, citing the one on loan to the Brooklyn Museum from a private collector here as "the best." Mr. Cahill said he was not "wildly happy or a strong supporter of the one in Taiwan and there are ways in which this is more sensitive and better drawn....I would suppose that one of them is good and the other is bad, or else both are bad." Mr. Cahill and Mr. Edwards indicated it was "questionable." Mr. Loehr found it acceptable.

"Knick-knack Peddler" by Li Sung (active about 1210-30). The subject exists in other accepted versions in the Cleveland Museum and in the Palace Collection in Taiwan. Always a popular subject, there are many versions from all periods since the Sung dynasty. Mr. Shimada said he doubted the authenticity of this version and suggested a later date based on the "very nervous brushwork and very stylized treatment of clothes." He said the tree branches at the top of the painting appeared to have been added later, a point on which Mr. Loehr and Mr. Wu agreed. Mr. Loehr observed that "the children here seem more well-behaved than in any of the other versions where they rush heedlessly towards the man and his toys." Ellen Laing of Wayne State University has written an article which will appear in the next issue of Artibus Asiae, a scholarly journal which she said challenges the museum's attribution to Li Sung. Mr. Lee said he had "no problem" with the painting whose condition is not good.

"Scholar by a Waterfall" attributed by the museum to Ma Yuan

"Scholar by a Waterfall" attributed by the museum to Ma Yuan

"Scholar by a Waterfall" by Ma Yuan (active 1190-1230), who in the Ming Dynasty became known as "one-corner Ma" because of the tendency of his compositions to be diagonal and emphasize one corner of the painting. With Hsia Kuei (1190-1225), Ma Yuan was a major leader of the Southern Sung period who focused on human beings and their place in the landscape. Mr. Edwards said "you can't definitely accept it." Mr. Wu and Mr. Cahill said it is a school painting rather than actually by Ma Yuan. Mr. Wu said the space around the man and the play of solid versus void was not as good as in Mrs. Dean Perry's painting in Cleveland and that this is "not so one-corner Ma." Another expert said a real Ma Yuan would have more depth and there would be an integration of planes and suggested this was a Ming work. Mr. Lee and Mr. Loehr accepted the painting, although Mr. Loehr suggested that the Perry painting, once in the collection of C. C. Wang, was "a rather different technique, maybe a different hand."

Detail from museum catalogue cover of "Wang Hsi-chih Watching Geese," by Ch'ien Hsuan

"Wang Hsi-chih Watching Geese" by Ch'ien Hsuan (about 1235-1300). Ch'ien Hsuan is a major painter on whom there are conflicting scholarly views. A number of experts accept that he did so-called "blue and green" landscapes in an archaistic manner, essentially a primitive, rather artificial manner. The only other blue and green landscape attributed to him has been at the Metropolitan for many years. Other experts find the archaistic landscapes incompatible with other paintings assigned to the artist and to some extent incompatible with the general level and goals of painting at the time in China.

Mr. Shimada said he can not "understand the archaistic tradition in Yuan or Ming," adding that he would not give any artist's name to the painting. "We have some information about Ch'ien Hsuan being committed to the revival of old painting, but we don't know what kind of tradition he tried to revive," he said.

Mr. Lee, however, said that the "concept of archaism is a very big question" and there is "a real split among scholars" about it. He accepted the Metropolitan painting, which is illustrated on the catalogue cover, as Ch'ien Hsuan, but said it would have been "somewhat legitimate to have indicated in a catalogue" differing opinions. He said that the famous masterpiece in the Detroit Institute of Art attributed to Ch'ien Hsuan was not by the artist and the signature and seals were fakes. He said that once that painting is not considered as by the artist, then his other work begins to have consistency.

Mr. Cahill said that "not one of the blue and green Ch'ien Hsuan's are absolutely safe," but he tended to like this one. The painting has been criticized by some as being "second-rate" and hard to reconcile with the artist's brushwork and color. The use of dots in the layered mountains was considered "clumsy" and "too big" by one authority while another said that the trees in the distance "are like ducks in a shooting gallery" and that the rocks have a degree of softness and a lack of definition.

"Odes of the State of Pin From the Kuo-Feng section of the 'Book of Odes'" by Ma Ho-chih (active about 1130-70) with text written in the style of the Sung emperor Kao-tsung (reigned 1127-62). Mr. Cahill noted that although Ma Ho-chih was known for his peculiar mannered brushstrokes "whoever painted this is much too involved in brush manner as such." Mr. Sickman said "there is only one [Ma Ho-chih] I think that is convincingly by the master and that is in the Palace Collection in Peking, which is more restrained and elegant." Mr. Lee said he did not believe it was of the period and "doubt must be cast on the author."
Mr. Shimada pointed out that the calligraphy sections are in much better condition than the painting portions even though they are on the same piece of silk. This apparently occurs in several other versions given to the artist but not in other works by him, he said.

"Farewell by the River on a Fine Day" by Chao Yuan (active 1350-1375). One scholar suggested that this might have been painted by the "same hand" as executed the Wang Meng. Mr. Lee accepted the painting but said his museum declined to buy it because the "price was too high." Mr. Shimada said the panting has been "all retouched." "I doubt it," he added, saying "it seems to have been once in a terrible condition."

"Landscape" by a follower of Hsia Kuei (active 1190-1225). Mr. Lee said the painting was "not impressive, not a major piece" and was done in the 14th or 15th Century. Another expert felt it was a school work, but Mr. Loehr said it looked "all perfect Hsia-Huei."

"Fishing Hermit in Autumn Forest" by Sheng Mou (active 1310-60) and "Fishing in the Autumn River" by Sheng Chu (active mid-14th Century, Sheng Mou's son) are generally considered pleasant minor works. Mr. Cahill suggested the painted attributed by the Metropolitan to Mou "might be a school work" and Mr. Shimada thought that both paintings might be by the same hand and Ming copies.

Metropolitan Museum Shows C. C. Wang Collection in 1999 and concedes there are scholarly disputes over "Along the Riverbank"

Chinagate Revisited: The Tang Gift


Drastically cut and rewritten story as it appeared in The Times

New York Post, in lead article of its Page Six column, reports on the controversy disclosed in The City Review

Major donor of Chinese paintings at Metropolitan museum violated contract and threatens to take back paintings and also disputes some of the extravagant claims by the museum about centerpiece of recent Tang gift of paintings from C. C. Wang collection

The City Review's Chinagate coverage makes Page Six of The New York Post the second time in four days


The New Yorker magazine quotes expert with serious doubts about centerpiece of recent Tang gift, doubts that were first raised in The City Review, and discloses that C. C. Wang plans to auction 40 works at Sotheby's where his grandson is the "resident Chinese-painting expert." 

Orientations Magazine carries two long commentaries on controversial attribution of The Riverbank

Letter from The City Review to Orientations Magazine that was sent but not published

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