CLP 16: 1991 "Chang Ta-ch'ien's Forgeries of Old Master Paintings." Symposium, Sackler Museum, D.C


Paper by James Cahill for symposium "Chang Dai-chien and His Art, Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C., Nov. 22, 1991. (Note: the Ss in boldface are references to slide changes.)

(Introductory: compliments on exhibition, catalog. Fu Shen's surprising success in getting owners of fakes to lend them, and have them published in catalog, as that.)

This is a paper, or perhaps better a slide show with commentary, of which the public presentation has been long delayed--for nearly thirty years. I planned to deliver something like this at the first great gathering of Chinese painting specialists, the "post-mortem conference" for the Chinese Art Treasures Exhibition, held at Asia House Gallery in New York in October of 1962. My presentation has grown to be much larger, and now has a quite different purpose: to commemorate and in a curious way honor its subject, Chang Ta-ch'ien, as a great forger of Chinese old-master paintings, instead of warning the world about them, as I meant to do then. Since much of what I will present comes from personal experience, I hope you will forgive a somewhat autobiographical tone.

(S,S) I met Chang first in Kyoto in 1955, when I was a Fulbright student and he had come to work with the publisher Benrido on the four volumes of reproductions of his collection, Ta-feng-t'ang ming-chi. He was staying at Kyoto's most elegant ryokan, the Tawaraya, and I visited him there. Since he had studied textile making in Kyoto for two years from 1917 and had been back to Japan often since then, he knew the city well, and spoke some Japanese, so that we could communicate; also, he was traveling with the art critic Chu Hsing-chai, who served as his English interpreter. My memory is of sitting with Chang drinking tea and talking about particular paintings; he had a brush and paper in front of him, and was sketching passages from them as we talked--I would ask "What do you think of the so-called Ch'ien Hsüan in Detroit?" and he would do a detail from it, perhaps a frog and dragonfly, as he replied. This was my introduction, and an extremely impressive one, to his extraordinary visual command of the whole past of Chinese painting.

Other memories include being at painting viewings with him, arranged by my then-teacher Shûjiro Shimada--Osvald Siren was also in Kyoto at the time, and I recall a meeting at the Fujii Yurinkan when Chang wrote a colophon on a handscroll of theirs attributed to Hui-tsung, listing in it all our names; it will no doubt puzzle scholars of the future. I remember the dealer Kawai Shôgadô, whom Chang owed an obligation for a T'ang silver box Kawai had given him, asking him to paint an album of landscapes in the styles of early Ch'ing masters such as Shih-t'ao, Pa-ta, K'un-ts'an etc.; Kawai's intent, as he told me, was to use the album in detecting Chang's forgeries of those masters. But Chang, as always, was one step ahead: his "imitations" of them in this album were recognizably in their styles, but were quite different from the styles he would use when forging them. Again, a dazzling performance of which I was already able to appreciate the subtleties.

Other reminiscences are irrelevant to this paper, but are hard to suppress. Being introduced to Szechwan cuisine by Chang at the restaurant at Roppongi that he patronized, when I visited him in Tokyo; audaciously persuading this famous personage to come with me to the Yûshima Seidô, the Confucian temple at Ochanomizu that sold Chinese antiques, to give me courage to spend $150 of my Fulbright stipend on a handscroll painting (it was the "Fishermen" handscroll by Wu Wei). Chang pronounced it genuine, and I bought it.

I was not aware, then, that Chang was producing forgeries of T'ang-Sung paintings as well as Ming-Ch'ing; that realization came after I returned to the Freer Gallery in 1956. I brought with me color transparencies I had made from a remarkable painting that had appeared in Japan, owned by the dealer Ogiwara, which I hoped the Freer would buy. (S,S) It was a Bodhisattva holding a glass with flowers, purportedly from Tun-huang, with an inscription containing a date corresponding to 757. Most of you will be familiar with it from Wen Fong's excellent 1962 article on forgeries in Chinese painting, in which this work is analyzed skillfully and shown to be a fabrication, copied from a figure still on the wall of one of the caves at Tun-huang. (I deliberately begin with a case in which I myself was taken in, to avoid any implication in what follows of criticizing the connoisseurship of others--we were all taken in, at one time or another.) The Freer did not pursue the painting, but not because of any doubts I had about it.

(S,S) Some time after this, the dealer Joseph Seo brought us for consideration another would-be Tun-huang painting, also dated 757, with the same donor (or his wife) mentioned in the inscription; we borrowed it to study. (It is reproduced in color in one of the Ta-feng-t'ang volumes.) Now our suspicions were aroused a bit, by the circumstance of two related works appearing within a short time. The Freer's Japanese mounter Takashi Sugiura looked at it carefully and pronounced the damning verdict that this purported T'ang painting was in fact done on Japanese silk (he was quite firm and specific about this). (S--)With the owner's permission we took pigment samples that were analyzed by John Gettens of the Freer's technical laboratory; he told us that one of the pigments, the yellow as I recall, was not used until some time in the 19th century. (Note also the flattening, completely non-volumetric drawing.)

(S,S) The detection of this one focused my suspicions on a recent Freer purchase (for which I wasn't responsible--it had been accepted for purchase by the director Archibald Wenley before I joined the staff in 1957), the handscroll representing "Three Worthies of Wu-chung," which presented itself as a work of around the time of Li Kung-lin, possibly by him. We put this through the same kind of technical examination, and it also flunked. (S,S) Besides the yellow, a white pigment--titanium dioxide--again was impossible for the early date claimed for the painting. (The technical details are no doubt still preserved in the Freer's files.) (S--) And Sugiura pointed out that although the silk was rent everywhere, the individual threads had not decomposed, and still had their flexibility and tensile strength. This was enough in itself to indicate artificial aging.

It was clear that these three works, along with others that appeared over the next few years, had identifiable physical and stylistic characteristics that could not be easily matched in genuinely old paintings. (S--) The areas of heavy pigment were rubbed and abraded in a more or less uniform way, and sometimes partly blackened, as if by pigment discoloration. (This is a detail from another Buddhist painting, included in Chang's posthumous gift to the Palace Museum in Taiwan). (S--) Light spatters of dilute ink onto the silk were meant to represent mildew spots partly removed through washing in remounting. The silk itself had a distinctive color and look, the product of artificial aging. Shûjirô Shimada remarked to me that the inscriptions on these paintings, which purportedly spanned centuries in date, seemed all to be from a single hand. (Fu Shen has studied them and concluded that it is probably the hand of Chang himself, although he also reports another opinion that it was done by his third wife.) (S--) The brush-drawing is strangely lifeless, representing presumably Chang's attempted re-creation of the purity and impersonality of brushwork as he had seen it in anonymous early paintings such as those at Tun-huang. (S--) Structural faults can be detected, drawing that does not "read" representationally, such as the non-organic drawing of a Bodhisattva's hand pointed out by Wen Fong in his article. (S--) Most cleverly, clues are planted in hard-to-read seals and inscriptions, which, when deciphered and identified, prove to match up with old, somewhat obscure records. Scholar-curators followed these clues with increasing excitement, like Hansel and Gretel following the trail of bread-crumbs left by the witch to lead them to her house where they would be eaten; they arrived at the conclusion that Chang had intended them to, and felt pride in having uncovered a long-neglected masterwork. The construction of these false trails itself required an unusual knowledge and ingenuity, a kind of scholarship-in-reverse that creates the data instead of uncovering and analyzing it.

By this time, I was of course catching on to what was happening, and who was behind it. The project of following Chang Ta-ch'ien's tracks and trying to detect his fabrications became a fascination for me; it was like playing a complicated game with a very capable adversary. (S,S) For anyone working in the field of Chinese painting at that time, Chang was a more or less inescapable figure. For instance, after my Skira book on Chinese painting was published in 1960, more than one Chinese friend (one of them, I recall, was Cheng Te-k'un) told me that while my selection was generally good, I had made one major mistake: reproducing the Sumitomo Shih-t'ao "Waterfall on Mt. Lu" (a detail from which was on my title-page.) When I would argue for the authenticity of this great work, which I knew well from visits to Sumitomo Kan'ichi in Oiso, they would play their trump card: they had been personally assured by Chang Ta-ch'ien himself that he had painted it. These reports disturbed me, and I took the trouble of checking into the matter. What I discovered was that the painting had come to Japan, and entered the collection of Kuwana Tetsujô, as early as 1908, when Chang was nine years old. After that I had my counter-argument ready, for those unwilling to accept the simple truth that the painting was far beyond Chang's capacity: he was indeed precocious, but not that precocious. It would appear that part of his effort of obfuscation was to lay claim to works that in fact were not his.

(S,S) Chang visited the Freer on several occasions during these years, to see paintings and talk; here we see him on the steps of the Freer in October 1958 with his wife, his son Paul, the artist Fang Chao-ling, and a young Freer curator who was given at that time to bow ties. In the other photo, my infant son Nicholas is getting his first view of a great Chinese artist. I learned a lot from going through parts of the old Freer collection with Chang, showing him paintings I had discovered among the neglected ones, asking and recording his opinions on these and others, and listening always for clues to his practice of making forgeries. (S,S) I remember once asking him over dinner (at the Peking Restaurant, out Wisconsin Avenue) about the several versions of Chang Feng's portrayal of Chu-ko Liang: one in Japan (published in Yonezawa's book on Ming painting) and another in the hands of a New York dealer--both paintings for which I knew Chang had been the source; and a third, which I took to be the original, published in the volume of Ho Kuan-wu's collection, T'ien-ch'i shu-wu ts'ang-hua chi. Which, I asked him, was the genuine work? But Chang was not to be cornered: his answer was that Chang Feng was quite fond of that subject, and painted it several times. They were all genuine. Foiled again.

(S--) Meanwhile, more of Chang's fabrications were turning up in far-flung places, hailed as major acquisitions by some of the great museums. Some of them passed through the hands of the artist-dealer Chiang Er-shih, who was described to me (before I had actually met him) as the only person who ever managed to outsmart Chang Ta-ch'ien, and who seems nonetheless to have been acting sometimes as Chang's agent. In 1957 the Musee Cernuschi in Paris acquired the "Horses and Grooms" handscroll ascribed loosely to the T'ang master Han Kan, which was said to have been bought by Chang Ta-ch'ien from a local official while he was at Tun-huang. According to a colophon written by P'u Ju, it had been discovered in 1900 in one of the caves. I had been able to see it when I was in Paris at the beginning of 1956, and now recognized it as one of my growing group. (In more recent years I have used it to test and train the eyes of students: after showing them the stylistic characteristics of genuine T'ang figure and horse paintings, I put this on the screen and ask: What about this? The sharp-eyed ones notice at once that the figures and horses are pressed together as two-dimensional forms, occupying no space and with none around them, and that the straight, stiff drapery-fold drawing also works against any volumetric rendering.) As with the imitations of Vermeer by the Dutch forger van Meegeren, the passage of time seems to erode the plausibility of the fakes, until works that once fooled the great experts end up looking transparently wrong to undergraduate students. I do not know how to account for this phenomenon, and only mean to draw attention to it.

(S,S) The year before this, in 1956, the Honolulu Academy of Arts had purchased the "Sleeping Gibbon" with a Liang K'ai signature; I saw another version in the collection of the Falks in New York. (Both are in the present exhibition.) One of the collections in Kyoto to which Shimada had introduced me during my Fulbright year there was that of Professor Ando; and in it (S--) was the painting that served as a source for both forgeries: one of a pair of pictures of gibbons attributed to Mu-ch'i. It had been published in Kokka magazine in 1926, and I assume that Chang made his forgeries from that reproduction, although it is possible that he saw the original in Kyoto. Having recognized this source, I mentioned it in a letter to Gustav Ecke, who had acquired the so-called Liang K'ai for the Honolulu Academy, and he was unfazed, or professed to be. He wrote me on October 19, 1958 (I still have the letter): "Many thanks for drawing my attention on Kokka no. 425. As a diligent student I should have paged Kokka issue by issue years ago, but of course did not do so. This version of the Gibbon is for me an important document, especially as it comes from the Matsudaira collection and is thus likely to have been in Japan for centuries...[He goes on to agree with me in giving a Yüan date to the version in Japan, and continues:] The inferiority of the Matsudaira version seems to me to speak to the eyes, viz. [that is] bamboo, fur, splashes and washes, not to speak of the expression. [He mentions the Falk version as a well-known Chang Ta-ch'ien fake, which he had known in Peking, asks me to be "discreet" about it, and goes on:] Our Gibbon scroll has a good pedigree (back to Southern Sung), acknowledged long ago already, before Chang Ta-ch'ien's hay-days, by George Yeh's uncle [Yeh Kung-cho], then one of the best connoisseurs of the old school..." The version in Japan, then, was for him simply a copy of the "Liang K'ai" in his museum.

Ecke's faith in the Yeh Kung-cho inscription, however, was misplaced: Yeh was one of the several respected connoisseurs who inscribed authentications on Chang's forgeries, I believe knowingly. It was indeed disturbing at that time to find authenticating inscriptions on these paintings by some of the Chinese authorities we most respected, notably Yeh Kung-cho, Wu Hu-fan, and P'u Ju. The text of the exhibition catalog takes the charitable view that these people were genuinely deceived, at least at the time they wrote their inscriptions; but Mr. C.C.Wang, when I asked him about these surprising authentications of spurious paintings, told me that the writers were friends who regarded it as a kind of game to help each other out, besides being rewarded in some way for their participation. I have seen enough evidence since then to believe the truth of that version of the matter.

(S,S) A notable case is this well-known painting, widely accepted as a work of Wu Wei, in the Shanghai Museum. I made the mistake of publishing it in my Parting At the Shore without having seen the original; the quality of the painting, the inscription by Wu Hu-fan, and its acceptance and publication by noted Chinese scholars seemed to make it a safe choice. (Once again, I don't mean to criticize others for being taken in by Chang's fakes when I was myself, more than once.) (S,S) When in 1977 I was finally able to see the painting and make detail slides, I realized my mistake; it is clearly from Chang's hand; the drawing of the faces alone should have given it away. Showing these same details at a slide show after my trip, I turned to C.C.Wang, who was visiting Berkeley and sitting in the front row, and asked him: "C.C., who really painted this?" He looked for a while, laughed, and said "You're right--it's Chang Ta-ch'ien." [Later note: only shortage of time kept me from demonstrating Chang's authorship of this painting with slide comparisons, as could easily be done, I think, using the excellent and genuine Wu Wei pai-miao paintings on silk in the same collection on the one hand, and details, especially faces, from Chang's acknowledged figure works on the other.]

From the late fifties into the early sixties, Chang's forgeries continued to enter major collections. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts purchased his "Kuan T'ung" landscape, of which I will speak later, along with a Buddhist painting of purported Sui date; the Ohara Museum in Kurashiki was purchasing (unknown to me until much later) another, spurious version of the "Five Oxen" scroll ascribed to Han Huang in the Palace Museum, Beijing; and the British Museum bought (through Chiang Er-shih?) two notable examples of Chang Ta-ch'ien's fabrications, the landscape ascribed to Chü-jan (also to be discussed later) and (S--) a painting of gibbons in trees attributed to the Northern Sung master I Yüan-chi.

(--S) Chang's fondness for gibbons is well known; he kept them in cages on his estate in Brazil. (I remember suggesting to someone that the models for the British Museum "I Yüan-chi" might still be living happily in the vicinity of Sao Paolo.) (--S) He painted this subject under his own name many times: here in a work dated 1959. In the Chung-ch'ing Municipal Museum I saw another version of the same "I Yüan-chi" composition by Chang, dated 1945, purportedly his copy of this Sung masterwork. He commonly, I believe, did one "early" version of his forgeries and at least one acknowledged copy (typically on paper, and under his own name) of the same composition, passing off the latter as his copy of the antique original. (--S) Fu Shen includes in his list of Chang's forgeries the painting of gibbons purchased by Siren for the National Museum, Stockholm, while omitting the British Museum picture. He may well be right, but it is a less obvious case, and if by Chang, must come from an unusually early period, since the Museum purchased the work in 1938, from a Mrs. Burchard in London, perhaps the widow of Otto Burchard.

(--S, BM "Chü-jan") By the early 1960s I was seriously worried about the effect that Chang's forgeries would have on the future acquisition of important early Chinese paintings by major museums and collections. I did not especially begrudge him his success in foisting these on unsuspecting purchasers; there was little of moral censure in my concern. In the case of the British Museum, there was even a certain (quite reprehensible) satisfaction, or Schadenfreude (German term for pleasure taken in someone else's discomfort) involved in my feeling. On my visit to that great institution in 1956, although I was treated very kindly by Basil Gray and Soame Jenyns, I had also been made uncomfortable by their complaints that the market for Asian art was being ruined by the high prices that American buyers were willing to pay (and also by a larger condescension they exhibited toward their American cousins). I cannot remember my exact response to Jenyns, but it took the line that listening to someone standing in the British Museum, repository of the Amaravati sculptures, the Elgin Marbles, and other masterworks of art acquired without benefit of purchase, at least from their countries of origin, now complaining about how the upstart Americans were pursuing works of art by the base means of spending money for them--the great days of genteel looting being over--was a bit hard to take. So that now to watch them, at last possessed of some substantial funds to spend on Chinese painting, blowing them on Chang's creations was something less than bitter.

Nevertheless, it was unsettling to observe how large a part of the money being spent by museums for would-be early Chinese paintings was going for these fakes; and the danger that their subsequent exposure would discourage those museums from making other and better major purchases of Chinese paintings in the future was especially disturbing.

Also, these forgeries would find their way into our histories of early Chinese painting, and contaminate or falsify them. It seemed time to blow a whistle. The best occasion for doing so, it seemed to me, was the great gathering of Chinese painting specialists referred to at the beginning of this paper, organized by myself and held at Asia House Gallery in New York in 1962. I had my slides and arguments prepared. But older and wiser heads, those of Larry Sickman and Aschwin Lippe, dissuaded me from making my presentation, when I told them about it, on the very good grounds that reputations of curatorial colleagues were at stake; too much of public money had been spent for these fabrications, and I would seriously embarrass people who had made honest mistakes.I accepted the wisdom of what they said, and abstained; the numerous presentations since then of my slide-talk on Chang Ta-ch'ien's forgeries, well known to my students and many others, have all been non-public. Now, almost thirty years later, some kind of statute of limitations having elapsed (and with Fu Shen having already published some of the forgeries as what they are), the time seems right for a public presentation.

he British Museum purchase of the landscape attributed to Chü-jan had caused a good deal of discussion. Michael Sullivan published an article on it in Apollo magazine for July 1962, calling it "A Masterpiece of Chinese Painting" and arguing that it was "either by Chü-jan or by a Northern Sung master working in his style." He sent me an offprint inscribed: "This picture haunts me. Sometimes it looks thoroughly Yüan. But I don't think it's modern, in spite of the usual rumours!" Some time in the following year, writing him argumentative notes after reading the manuscript of a book in which he intended to publish this painting once more, I quoted a line from his manuscript, "It is impossible to be certain that [the painting] is an original," and commented "The Dept. of Understatement hereby awards you its prize of the year. I've been writing a preface for an exhibition of paintings by our illustrious Brazilian friend [this was my code-name for Chang at that time--the exhibition was the one held at the Hirschl and Adler Gallery in New York, for which I wrote a blurb for the brochure] to be held in New York in October, and going over a lot of photos and reproductions of his works very carefully, and getting, I hope, closer to understanding his individual traits." And I suggested to Michael that he stand before the British Museum painting and chant: "Chü-jan, Chü-jan on the wall,/ Have you any age at all?/ Are you fourteenth century? Did he who made Kuan T'ung make thee?" (The reference, of course, was to the recently-purchased "Kuan T'ung" in the Boston M.F.A.) Michael responded, almost by return mail, with a letter beginning "Dear Jim, Thank you for your chant. I got up, like Alice, and began to repeat it, but the words came very queer indeed: [Then followed a revised Jabberwocky, of which I will read only the first and last stanzas:] 'Twas Cahillig, and the murksome voles/ Did chang and fakem in the Freer,/ Brazilian were the sungish scrolls,/ But the Chü-jan--no fear! // [And the last stanza:] 'Twas s'picious, and the pedagogues/ Did grumm and wumble in their lairs./ All sniffish were the sinologues, --/ But the Chü-jan outstares./ [Footnote:] A slight flickering of the lids, perhaps, but no more." I hope that our younger colleagues still write verses to each other in pursuing their arguments.

(S--) My slide shows offered over the years have been pedagogical in purpose, using comparisons between genuinely old works and Chang's forgeries to sharpen the eyes of students. I will not repeat the arguments at length here, but will only give a few examples in outline. The "Chü-jan" landscape in the British Museum repeats in its composition a painting ascribed to the same artist in the Shanghai Museum, which was first published, I believe, in 1959; Fu Shen has determined that Chang was sent a photograph of the Shanghai painting as early as 1951, and assumes, rightly I think, that Chang used this photograph as the basis for his forgery. The fact that the Shanghai Museum painting is itself a late, mannered copy of an early composition permitted the argument, made for instance by Sullivan, that it was a copy of the British Museum picture, rather than the other way around. But comparisons of details reveal the Shanghai painting, hardened as it is, to be an "honest" painting of some age, perhaps Ming, while the British Museum version does not stand up to close scrutiny.

(S,S) The forms in the Shanghai picture, however debased, are firmly defined in distinct strokes; in the British Museum work, they are diffuse, blurred, fused together. Chang, working on silk that would be artificially darkened, evidently assumed that his drawing would be exempt from close examination.

(S,S) The man seated in the waterside porch at the bottom of the Shanghai painting is self-contained, exhibiting a proper Chinese decorum; his counterpart in Chang's copy leans moodily toward the water, gazing over his shoulder, as if wrapping himself against the unease of his vibrant, indistinct surroundings. (S--) The style of the British Museum picture is matched closely, on the other hand, in a landscape of 1954 in my own collection signed by Chang himself, based in composition on a recently-rediscovered work of Wang Meng, as Fu Shen identifies in the catalog, but in other respects in the Chü-jan manner. The distinctive patterns of exposed tree roots, the clumps of fat, blunt tien or dots along the slopes--the Morellian details that identify the hand--along with the larger running together of brushstrokes that are not clearly assigned to particular forms, join these two works and set them apart from anything genuinely antique.

(S,S) I have used such pairings of slides as this to demonstrate the stylistic agreement in essential features between the British Museum painting and mine, given differences in medium (silk vs. paper) and intent (honest imitation of the past vs. deception), and have unkindly pointed out that mine was acquired (through the introduction of C.C.Wang, then in Hong Kong) for the equivalent of around $250, while the British Museum picture cost them--shall we say, somewhat more. (S,S) (Theirs and mine; you can see them side by side in the exhibition; mine is in better condition, theirs deplorably beat-up.)

(S,S) The full detection of Chang Ta-ch'ien's fabrications, then, has required a combination of external criteria--identifying models--and internal--identifying his hand.The two did not necessarily happen together. When I was shown, some time in the mid-1960s, a painting ascribed to the 8th century figure master Chang Hsüan owned by a respected friend and collector who had acquired it, I was quickly able to add it to the group of Chang's forgeries--the flattening effect of the drapery drawing, the way the colors lay on the silk, the look of the faces, the calligraphy of the inscription, the ripping of the silk, and other features combined to identify it easily. But I had no idea what source he might have used for his composition, or even whether he had used a source, and not simply invented it himself. (S--) Many years later, visiting one of my favorite places in Kyoto, the villa of the painter Hashimoto Kansetsu near the Ginkakuji, I walked into a small exhibition of his works shown in the house, and saw Hashimoto's preparatory drawings, done in 1929, for a set of five paintings illustrating Po Chü-i's "Song of Endless Sorrow," the poem about Ming-huang and Yang Kuei-fei; (S,S) and there was the composition of the "Chang Hsüan" painting. The attendant must have wondered why I laughed aloud. It seems quite likely that Chang Ta-ch'ien had come to know the sinophile Hashimoto during his stay in Kyoto, especially in view of Hashimoto's involvement in Shih-t'ao collecting and scholarship.

I would take issue, by the way, with Fu Shen's statement in his article on Chang's forgeries that "Only in a few instances did Chang directly copy an existing early painting" and that "Usually he fabricated a new composition by subtly combining elements from more than one painting." I believe on the contrary that particular, single sources can be located for most of his forgeries, if we can only identify them. I will offer a few more as contributions to this project of "full disclosure."

(--S) This would-be T'ang painting of "Lao-tzu Going Through the Pass" was part of Chang's posthumous gift to the Palace Museum in Taipei, and is reproduced in the catalog of the present exhibition. Again, Chang's early period in Kyoto probably accounts for his choice of model: (S--) he must have acquired a copy of Tanke Gessen's Ressen zusan, "Pictures of [Taoist] Immortals" (preface 1780, printed in 1818), which was easily available in bookstores there, and appropriated the first picture in Gessen's book to "re-create" a Chinese original, adding some T'ang-style trees and flowers, shading the drapery folds and the ox in the T'ang manner as he understood it, etc. (I use the word "appropriate" with an uneasy feeling that someone is bound eventually to apply it to Chang's uses of the past and demand that we recognize him as an important Chinese precursor of post-modernism.)

I should mention that the Tokyo dealer Kusaka Shôgadô once showed me a box of materials that Chang Ta-ch'ien had left with him for safekeeping; I looked through them only briefly and made no notes or photographs, but my recollection is that they appeared to be rolls of paper and textiles etc. used by Chang in producing his forgeries, along with a few practice or unsuccessful efforts. If these still exist, they could add to the clues we have in our efforts at detection. I have written to Kusaka's son to inquire about them.

(--S) Paintings done by Chang under his own name also are often based on unacknowledged sources: the three early paintings in the manner of Jen Po-nien in the exhibition are, I believe, derived from particular Jen Po-nien compositions, and this one, rightly described in the catalog as in the style of Ch'en Hung-shou, (S--) is more specifically a copy of a leaf in Ch'en's album in the Nanking Museum.

(S,S) The two large, impressive paintings purportedly by Tung Yüan and Chü-jan that were among the treasures of the Hong Kong collector J. D. Chen are both based on identifiable prototypes. For the "Tung Yüan," it is a composition that survives in several versions, one being a leaf in the Hsiao-chung hsien-ta album of reduced-size copies with Tung Ch'i-ch'ang inscriptions, where it appears as a Wang Meng painting in the Tung Yüan manner, and (S--) another being a copy by Wu Li. Chang simply re-created the "Tung Yüan original" of these. (S,S) The "Chü-jan" forgery is not, as the catalog has it (p. 192 footnote), "based on Seeking the Dao in Autumn Mountains"--the well-known work in the Palace Museum, Taipei, with a composition similar but not identical to that of the forgery--but on a painting hidden a more obscure place, so obscure that anyone can be forgiven for having missed it: (S--) I refer to the storage room of the Freer Gallery, where this work, reg. no. 19.137 in the old Freer collection, languishes in obscurity. How Chang Ta-ch'ien can have known this painting, or a photograph of it, remains a mystery. He may have seen another, older version. In any case, the Freer picture matches exactly the J. D. Chen forgery. (Notice, by the way, how the mountaintop in the forgery disappears entirely, not through damage but simply through not being there; we will note the same curious feature later in what I believe to be another of Chang's creations.)

In spite of the efforts of Fu Shen and myself and others to identify the forgeries made by Chang Ta-ch'ien, quite a few no doubt remain undetected, and I would like to point to a few paintings that seem to me good targets for investigation, and explain why. (S,S) One of them is the so-called "Sun Wei" Kao-i t'u or "Lofty Recluses" handscroll in the Shanghai Museum. It is well known that Chang knew this work and did pictures based on the figures in it under his own name; I suspect that his involvement with it went even deeper, that it may well be another of his fabrications. (S,S) If we note in Chang's copy, for instance, the unnatural way the bands of cloth over the arm fall straight down, denying the arm any volume (I am using the kind of criteria employed by Wen Fong in his old article on forgeries), and then turn to the would-be archaic original, we find the same non-structural drawing there. (S--) The heavy, schematic shading resembles that in Chang's identified forgeries; so do the overly-aware faces, the pastiche-like combining of elements rendered in disparate manners, (S,S) the hard, stiff drawing of drapery, and other features. This painting has never been on view on any of my many trips to the Shanghai Museum, nor have several requests to see it been successful. It is reportedly to be seen in their new painting exhibition, and I look forward to viewing the original in a few months. Meanwhile, I only report serious suspicions.

(S,S) Several of the paintings that were among Chang's posthumous gift to the Palace Museum are strong candidates for inclusion in the group; one of these, certainly, is the "Chü-jan" riverscape, rightly included by Fu Shen in his article, a picture that appears to have been made to exemplify the well-known statement by Shen Kua about a painting by Tung Yüan, that it only revealed its quality when seen from a distance. Another is the "Wang Shen" handscroll. In both, Chang was "faking" in more senses than one: he did not take the trouble to give real shape and structure to his earth masses, relying instead on the viewer's willingness to read into the picture what in fact he did not provide. (S,S) The same is even more true of this quite similar handscroll which has been published as a work of Yen Wen-kuei: the artist, who I suspect was Chang Ta-ch'ien, has simply failed to define his forms as more than vague shapes, assuming that the darkness of the silk and the impression of great age will hide the truth: that they are quite empty and featureless. (I am not persuaded, by the way, by the argument that Chang never put his collector's seals on his own creations; this may well be a story he spread himself to divert attention from some of them.) (--S) Artists of antiquity provided their viewers with, among other things, distinct imagery, substantial and clearly-shaped masses, readable spaces. If artists and viewers of later centuries lost interest in these qualities, concentrating instead on brushwork and whole effect, this only facilitates the job of the modern forger, who can supply the visual clues for some old style without troubling to create its real substance. That is exactly what we saw Chang doing in the British Museum "Chü-jan," which dissolves into cotton-candy when one looks closely at details, or (S,S) the "Kuan T'ung" painting in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, another notable forgery by Chang, which looks complex and absorbing at first but turns out, when one gets further into it, to exhibit the same incoherence, lacking structure and substance, (S,S) besides betraying in some passages an anachronistic sophistication in the rendering of light on the forms.

When we admire Chang Ta-ch'ien as a great forger, then, we must admit one major weakness: he painted his "ancient" works as though he did not really care about their representational qualities, about making pictures that were clearly readable in the old manner. (S,S) He tended make them up of amorphous, essentially incoherent configurations that were not meant to be scrutinized closely. (S,S) He would paint passages of tangled tree trunks and branches and twigs that no amount of careful study can resolve into spatially and organically comprehensible images, because they were fabricated in a mode careless of representation. (S,S) At an exhibition of early figure paintings held at a major museum several years ago, I found myself going back and forth between two paintings separated in time by several centuries, if one believed the labels (the details I have been showing come from the one on the right, a picture ascribed to Li Ch'eng) and noting in both the same confounding of what should be distinct planes of depth in the trees, the same indecision about which branches belong to which tree, the same unintelligible tangles, and having a strong sense that the two pictures are in fact from the same hand. (At this point I sense the spirits of Larry Sickman and Aschwin Lippe standing behind me and saying: No, don't identify them. All right, Larry, all right Aschwin, I won't.)

(S,S) In some genuinely old landscapes, especially those of the Tung-Chü school--these are two that may be copies of works of that kind (ident)--the recession into depth is reinforced by long, winding movements out of the distance, continuing sometimes all the way into the foreground. There is no ambiguity in these about what is winding--a river, or a road. (S,S) Chang Ta-ch'ien was also fond of this device; but the way in which his use of it differs from that of the old artists exemplifies again his unconcern with integrity of representation, or readability. The streams in his paintings (these are two of his signed works) often cannot be distinguished visually from the paths, and the one turns into the other. (S,S) Two more. The artist is working on a plane raised above specific descriptive reference; the winding movement itself, as a visual marker of old style, is what matters.(S--) Still another, a painting in the exhibition (#37).

(S,S) Fu Shen identifies, in connection with one of the landscapes in the exhibition, a type of composition that Chang supposedly learned from Tung Yüan by way of Chao Tso (cat. #39); another example, which appeared in a 1986 auction in Hong Kong, belongs to the same type. In these, a vertical concavity on one side is occupied by a waterfall; a horizontal recession on the other side extends from the foreground to the high horizon.

(--S) All the elements I have been trying to define as characteristic of Chang's style come together in this much-praised work, ascribed to Tung Yüan and bearing his "signature". The composition is paralleled more closely in Chang's paintings (such as the two we have just seen) than in anything genuinely archaic, and is filled with spatially and formally unintelligible passages, which time does not permit me to point out individually. I have used the picture as a visual test for students in my early Chinese painting courses; the sharp-eyed ones point out, for instance, that what begins as a winding river in the distance turns imperceptibly into a road with figures walking on it. (I received for the first time a readable photograph of this painting from its owner, someone I respect highly, just as I was preparing the doctoral exams for Richard Vinograd, and gave it to him as a part of his connoisseurship exam; with no prior acquaintance with the painting, he analyzed it skilfully, coming, I think, to the right conclusion, that it could not be a genuinely old picture.) (S--) At the bottom, the same moody scholar leans on the balustrade of his porch and gazes out over the water. Here, too, he is surrounded by the kind of representational incoherence we saw in others of Chang's fabrications: spongy earth-masses of no plausible plastic form that blur ambiguously into trees and houses; a radical failure to attend to keeping one pictorial element distinct from another. (Yes, Larry, all right, Aschwin, I hear you; I'll finish in a minute.) The fact that the distant mountain disappears entirely at the top, as it does in the "Chü-jan" forgery shown earlier, cannot be explained as damage, or mildew, or mist; it simply isn't there. Chang, secure in his assumedly unfathomable murkiness of darkened silk, did not paint it in. (I hear a chorus of protest: Chinese artists were not concerned with such descriptive niceties of hsing-ssu or form-likeness. Wrong, I reply, they were; anyone arguing otherwise must explain why no comparable incoherence or form-faking can be found in reliably old Chinese paintings.)

It is of course quite possible that I am mistaken about one or another of these, or even conceivably all of them, and that they are respectable old paintings which I have maligned. If so, I apologize to them and their supporters. But those supporters would have a lot to explain away, definable features to be matched in Chang's recognized forgeries but not in reliably early paintings. I believe firmly that I could make the traditional offer--if this is a real Sung (or pre-Sung) painting, I'll eat it--without risking any substantial increase in my diet of silk fiber.

(S,S) A final note. In 1976 a young woman came to me to apply for our masters program; she was modestly uninformative about her parentage, but when I put together her surname, Chang, with the fact that her native language was Portugese, I had my suspicions, which she reluctantly confirmed: she was Sing Chang (properly Chang Hsin-sheng), youngest and most beloved daughter of Chang Ta-ch'ien. During the years she studied with me, whenever I would give my talk on Chang's forgeries, I would always refer to him as Mr. X, to avoid making her uncomfortable. But in fact she shared, understandably, my non-judgemental attitude toward her illustrious father, and would smile when I referred to him as a modern Till Eulenspiegel, whose knavery justified itself by its very brilliance. On one occasion, when I took my Wen Cheng-ming seminar (in which she was enrolled) for a weekend trip to Point Lobos to look at old cypress trees like those in Wen's paintings, we all stayed in Chang's house at nearby Pebble Beach and enjoyed his garden and studio.

After Sing had taken her masters degree in 1979 and was living with her father in Taiwan, I proposed a plan to her: I would make up an album of photographs of paintings that I suspected of being fabrications by him; she would persuade him to look through it with her, and to indicate by a simple nod or shake of the head whether I was right or wrong. And she would record his reponses, and report them to me. My purpose was of course to try to get the truth from him before he joined his ancestors--although I was quite aware that he might decide to have the last laugh, and claim pictures he hadn't done, or disclaim some that he had. At least it would be another document for my ever-growing dossier. Sing agreed, and wrote also that her father "was agreeable to the idea" and that I should send her what she called the "black list." I made up the album, giving it a title that I hoped would amuse him, "Secret Collection of Ancient Masterworks Imitated by Ta-feng-t'ang." And I wrote her that I would commit myself not to divulge his revelations during his lifetime, but would preserve them for the benefit of future scholarship. I sent it to her in August of 1981; when I met her subsequently and asked about the project, she replied that her father had not been well, and that the right moment had not come. Unhappily, it never did. Chang died in April 1983 without having gone through my album with her. Foiled again.

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