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CLP 45: 2001 "Chinese Art and Authenticity." Asian Art Museum, S.F Paper for mtg. of American Academy of Arts and Sciences published in their Bulletin, vol. IV no. 1, Fall 2001

James Cahill paper for American Academy of Arts and Sciences Western Center program, Asian Art Museum, S.F., March 3, 2001

Chinese Art and Authenticity

(Introductory remarks: thanks to Paul Silverman, Jean Keating)

The problem of authenticity in Chinese art can be considered from two points of view, theirs and ours. How the Chinese thought about the problem, that is, and how we can and should grapple with it. I’ll talk about both tonight, going back and forth between them.

First, Chinese attitudes toward forgery. A belief that is widespread outside China has it that the Chinese don’t really care about authenticity--distinguishing the real thing, that is, from the copy or imitation. A New Yorker article (June 15 1998) , for instance, adduces the Chinese practice of making replicas of archaeological objects and other artifacts so convincing that they can send them abroad in exhibitions, in place of the original objects; and also of rebuilding old buildings instead of preserving or restoring them, duplicating old artifacts with modern materials, using conservation techniques that don’t permit the original parts to be clearly distinguished from the restorations. All these convince the writer that the Chinese have a very different concept of authenticity from ours. And he comes to this conclusion: “Recognizing the importance of the original hand of the artist places a value on individualism that is foreign to Chinese culture.”

But that’s much too broad a statement, true for some of the Chinese arts but quite false for others. To be sure, the identity of “the original hand of the artist” plays no part in evaluations of architecture, sculpture, bronzes, ceramics, and others that correspond, for the Chinese, with what we would call the applied arts. But for those that correspond roughly to our concept of “fine arts,” primarily painting and calligraphy, the hand of the maker, and his or her original style, are absolutely central to appreciating them. And these two categories of art, whatever we call them (Nelson Goodman uses the terms autographic and allographic), can’t be lumped together when we consider problems of authenticity.

I’ll be speaking tonight chiefly about Chinese painting, both because it’s what I know about and because it presents, I think, the most interesting authenticity problems. Since it would be dull to simply sum up accepted views on the matter, I’ll try to offer some less accepted, even controversial ones--trusting (and knowing from previous occasions of this kind) that my colleague Jerome Silbergeld will not let them slip by unchallenged. But before turning to painting I want to note a few implications of the common Chinese practice of replicating or forging (the distinction isn’t always clear) archaeological finds.

S,S. In the 1940s, small grey-pottery figurines with burnished black surfaces and sculpturally interesting shapes, said to date from the late Zhou period (ca. 4th cent. B.C.) and to have come from tombs at a place called Huixian (after which they were named), began to appear on the market in Luoyang and elsewhere. They were bought by collectors and museums all over the world.

S,S. As time went on, examples appeared that were even more excitingly expressionist-looking. (They are supposed to represent mourners wailing at the funeral of the deceased.) But eventually the bubble burst: forgers in Luoyang were making them in quantities to supply the market, and prices dropped dramatically.

S -- So far as I know, the pieces closest to them that have been unearthed in controlled excavations are these relatively inert and unexciting specimens. Some of the Huixian figurines appear to have been genuinely antique, however, and the thermoluminescence technique of dating ceramics can be used to sort them out from the forgeries.

S,S. The forgers’ practice of supplying a demand when archaeology or genuine tomb-looting falls short continues today: the attractively slim figurines of young men and women uncovered in 1992-3 in an early Han imperial tomb near Yangling have appeared on the market since then in greater numbers than clandestine excavation and smuggling can account for. Antique stores in Hong Kong are filled with replicas of tomb objects purportedly smuggled from excavations on the mainland; most of them are in fact made for the trade.

S --. Tomb figurines were mass produced to begin with, and one could almost argue that for most types, there are enough to go around. One-of-a-kind objects present a different kind of ethical issue: every new catalog from the dealers who specialize in smuggled early Chinese art is likely to evoke twinges of dismay along with excitement in specialist scholars as they encounter for the first time great and unique pieces that should have stayed in China, with their archaeological contexts intact. On the other hand, even in this area the forgers remain one step ahead of us. This painted marble relief of a guardian figure, said to have been removed improperly from the 10th century tomb of Wang Chuzhi in Hebei province, now famous for the reliefs and paintings later found there in a controlled excavation, was put up for auction last year but withdrawn when Chinese authorities demanded its return. My wife Hsingyuan Tsao, however, who has been in the tomb, reports that there is nowhere it can have come from, and to my eyes (and hers) it looks quite spurious. There have been other examples of purportedly smuggled objects that in fact were probably made to supply this already morally clouded demand; one is unsure just what principled stance is proper to such cases. The one observation we can make is that fooling the foreigners has always been regarded in China as a perfectly honorable enterprise.

But so, for that matter, has fooling other Chinese, especially those considered one’s social or cultural inferiors, rich merchants and the like. This was equally true for calligraphy and painting (to which I now turn.) Early writings on painting are full of references to forgeries (they are conveniently collected in a 1962 article on “The Problem of Forgeries in Chinese Painting” by my colleague Wen Fong), and famous and respected artists are credited with making them--borrowing, perhaps, a painting they coveted, producing a convincing replica, and returning that to the unsuspecting owner. I say credited rather than accused, since the act seems to have brought them no moral opprobrium.

When we speak of “authenticity,” our subject tonight, we mean two separable but related things. An object can be authentic by being genuinely what it’s presented as being--for instance, the work of a certain master or from a certain period; or else by being the product of authentic or genuine mpulses: the maker is not trying to fool us, or make his creation seem what it’s not. The latter sense takes us back to the 1960s, when some poems and pots and people were authentic, some weren’t, and the idealistic young were very sure they could tell the one from the other. We can only look back to those days and those attitudes with nostalgia, and go on searching out in art the authenticity that we miss elsewhere in our lives.

Is there an equivalent to this compound meaning of “authentic” in China? Yes, if we attend only to the class of objects to which it’s applicable, the ones that derived their value, in principle, from their being genuine products of the hands of particular people whose admirable character, so the theory went, would somehow impart a correspondingly admirable character to their artistic creations. The word zhen, for instance, with the basic meaning “real,” can be used for “authentic” in the compound zhenji or “authentic traces” of some artist ‘s hand--that is, a genuine work of painting or calligraphy; it can also be used in the compound zhenren, “authentic person” or “realized person” in the Daoist sense. The link between these, in art theory, is the idea of self-expression through the traces of one’s hand, which were read as the imprints of one’s mind, comparable to verbal expressions in poetry. Traces reliably from the hands of persons of a certain moral stature and spiritual attainment, then, were authentic in both senses.

S.S. (Su T-p, Wang Tingyun) On the left, a painting (much worn and retouched) of an old, twisted tree said to be by the great 11th century poet, statesman, and amateur artist Su Dongpo; on the right, another old tree and bamboo by a follower named Wang Tingyun, working about a century later. Both are examples of literati or scholar-amateur painting, a movement that originated in Su Dongpo’s time and was originally centered on himself and his associates; their paintings and their theories were aimed at separating their works from the kind done by professional masters. Su’s picture was read as a visible manifestation of his personal qualities and feelings, its forms (in the words of his friend Mi Fu) “queerly tangled like sorrows coiled up in his breast.” An early colophon to Wang Tingyun’s painting likens viewing it to “seeing the man himself.” For this kind of appreciation, attention to brushwork, the hand or touch of the artist, was paramount, far overriding any judgement of the work as representation, a category that was relegated to the lowest position on the scale of critical concerns. This emphasis on brushwork, along with a heavy reliance on documentary evidence--signatures, seals, inscriptions, records in catalogs--is the basis of traditional Chinese connoisseurship. Our esteemed friend Wang Jiqian in New York, one of its two leading practitioners in our time, has for decades been urging on us an almost single-minded concentration on brushwork as the key to appreciating Chinese painting.

It is a tradition that merits our deepest respect. At the same time, I have come to believe, at this late stage in my career, that as a basis for deciding questions of authenticity it has serious limitations. I’ve even written (to the dismay of some former students, who rightly feel that it contradicts what I once taught them) that brushwork alone, apart from its representational function, is just about useless as a criterion for judging authenticity. To say this is not to depreciate Wang Jiqian as a connoisseur, or traditional Chinese connoisseurship as a whole; he and his connoisseurial compatriots, I believe, are not really reading the brushstrokes purely as traces of the artist’s hand, but are affected also, even when they deny it, by how the brushstrokes function descriptively within the whole pictorial structure. There is some gap, that is, between what is articulated and what is practiced.

S,S. A work titled “Living Aloft” by one of the great literati masters, Wen Zhengming, painted in 1543, along with a copy of it. The Chinese emphasis on the execution of the work, the “handwriting” of the artist, in judgements of authenticity in painting and calligraphy, is valid to the extent that these belong to what Nelson Goodman calls “autographic” arts.[1] An accurate copy of a literary text or a musical score cannot be called a forgery of that work, while even a good copy of a painting or work of calligraphy, done to deceive, must be, since even the slightest divergence between it and the original will be significant in betraying a different hand, a different period, a different intent. I had best introduce here, before continuing, an objection that is commonly, even endlessly, raised: if one can’t tell the difference between the original and the copy, why does it matter which is which? But putting the question that way falsifies the situation one faces in real judgements of authenticity in art: if one can’t tell the difference, one goes back and studies the objects more, and tries to refine one’s perceptions, until one can. The objects will appear identical, that is, only until the differences between them, however subtle, are recognized. And typically, after some passage of time, they come to appear so obvious that one cannot imagine how one ever missed them. That is also the answer to the collector’s question: “Who cares whether it’s a genuine Wen Zhengming [or whatever] so long as I like it?”--the time will very probably arrive [we reply] when your eyes will be opened to the real qualities of paintings genuinely by Wen Zhengming, and you will see how your picture falls short, after which you can never again, however hard you try, feel the same way toward it.

At this point I want to shift from traditional Chinese criteria to some which I think have been undervalued if not ignored in that tradition, but which should be part of our toolbox when we work on problems of authenticity. We have begun in recent years to pay more attention to the social functions of Chinese paintings, in addition to their aesthetic qualities, and to read paintings for how they were designed to perform those functions. Wen Zhengming’s “Living Aloft” was painted for a certain Mr. Liu who had just left government service at the age of seventy and intended to build a two-story house where he would dwell in retirement “upstairs.” The artist, picturing Liu’s intention prior to its realization, situates him (with a visiting friend) in an open room, set above the trees and beyond a series of depth markers that we must pass over visually to reach the focal point of the composition. (Show) And although Wen Zhengming’s manner of painting in outlines and pale colors is commonly (and correctly) described as tending to flatten or deny space, he is able within it to separate his planes of depth and achieve a spatial structure of great clarity, in carrying out his expressive purpose. The copyist (whose work is at left, as you will have realized by now) fails to do the same, compressing his overlapping materials instead into a single plane, as copyists typically will.

S,S. The bare willows in the foreground of Wen’s picture stand out from the bank and the wall beyond, as the copyist’s do not. Note, in Wen Zhengming’s work, the construction of the wall, with flat stones set into the base to strengthen it against erosion and wear, a feature eliminated by the copyist, but one we will reencounter in another painting later.

S,S. The airy upstairs room rises above the masses of tree foliage, which are varied in ink tonal values and placed so that they surround the house believably on all sides. Here again the copyist fails. In every way, Wen Zhengming’s work successfully conveys in pictorial forms the ideal that inspired it, that of living reclusively aloft, above and beyond the dusty world.

To be sure, the copy would not fool a good Chinese connoisseur; Wang Jiqian would see it immediately for what it is. But there are many cases in which true and false are not so easily separated, and even major connoisseurs will fail to agree on whether or not a painting is from the hand of the master, purely on criteria of brushwork. The two most famous connoisseurs in China, traveling with a group touring U.S. collections some years ago, reportedly disagreed constantly, one pronouncing a work genuine and the other fake; and numerous cases can be found in literary records of contradicting judgements by prominent connoisseurs. Attention to a different question, that of how the pictorial structure works to deliver the intended message, on the assumption that the original artist cared about this as the copyist or forger did not, can often contribute importantly, I think, to a solution of these problems.

In discussing Wen Zhengming’s picture in this way we shift attention from the idea of integrity in the artist to a kind of pictorial integrity in the work. From the painting as the product of a particular master’s hand, that is, we turn, if only for a time, to consider the painting as a picture, which can have its own integrity, as if apart from the identity and character of the artist. Western art historians have written about how in the past two centuries or so the experience of viewing oil paintings was aestheticized and art-historicized, from seeing them as pictures made under certain iconographic and other pictorial constraints to fulfill certain functions, to looking at them for their styles and aesthetic properties, and their authenticity as products of the hands of particular masters. The same recognition for Chinese painting, of how the practice of connoisseurship has transformed the way the paintings are read and evaluated, has been slower in coming. But I believe the concept or criterion of pictorial integrity to which it will lead can be useful, sometimes even decisive, in authenticity questions.

It frequently happens also that a copyist, attempting to replicate some painted form, will misunderstand and garble it; recognizing such pictorial misunderstandings, I have argued, should enable us to decide with some finality which is which. (This argument, I may say, has not been universally accepted.) The difference, which should be a clear one, is between an artist depicting some object in the world around him, and one who is attempting to copy a form from a painting, without necessarily having first-hand knowledge of the thing it was meant to portray, or even being quite clear about just what it was. I will show two examples.

S,S. A handscroll representing the scenery of the Wu or Suzhou region by Wen Zhengming’s older contemporary Shen Zhou exists in three versions: one on silk, now in the Allen Memorial Museum at Oberlin; and two on paper, one of them in the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, the other in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. On the screen are two sections of the one on silk, which I believe to be the original, or at least the oldest and best. The place represented is Tianpingshan or Heavenly Peace Mountain, with a Buddhist temple and the ancestral shrine of a great Song-period scholar-statesman located at its base. I don’t have detail slides to show, but the sharp-eyed among you (I myself am no longer that) can make out in the temple wall the same insetting of flat stones in the base that we saw before in Wen Zhengming’s picture. Where the wall changes direction, a stone cannot overlap the join, for obvious reasons.

S --. The painter of the Nelson Gallery scroll, which I believe to be a copy, misunderstands this feature and draws stones of irregular shape piled loosely against the base of the wall, not set into it (as their jagged lower contour makes clear); one of them covers, impossibly, the join of two sections of the wall set at a right angle. (He also adds quite unnecessary bracketing to the modest roof of the gateway, which cannot be heavy enough to require such support.)

-- S. The copyist of the Palace Museum scroll, which must be one further step removed from the original, compounds the misunderstanding by adding shading to make the stones, now freely jumbled against the wall, stand out strongly from it. It’s hard to imagine any Suzhou resident, who saw walls of this kind every day, falling into such a misreading; the copies may have been made in some other place where the sight was not familiar. These pictorial blunders (and there are others in the scrolls, all favoring the Oberlin version) only confirm what I would conclude anyway from the style of the paintings, by asking: in which one do the brushstrokes perform their function of imparting shape and volume to the terrain forms and in which do they flatten them? But although we should be able to agree on that as well, it appears that we cannot, and must use criteria that have a more objective, I would even say decisive, character.

S,S. The other case, on which I carried on a contentious correspondence with three colleagues that has been published in part, deals with a well-known painting of “Examining Antiquities” supposed to be by the Ming master (15th-16th century) Du Jin, kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. I will present my side of the argument in the briefest outline. It is a large horizontal painting, probably mounted originally as a screen like the ones represented in it. I saw and photographed another version of the left one-third of the composition in Japan (slide at left) and wrote that it appeared more acceptable as issuing from the hand of Du Jin, or any good artist, than the corresponding section of the Taipei picture, in which we can find various representational mistakes.

S --. Later, another version of the right third turned up in a New York auction; it is now in the Yale University Art Gallery. (Large horizontal pictures were often cut up in this way to make hanging scrolls that would fit into tokonoma alcoves and other places where space was constricted.) This one also, whatever its relation might be to the picture in Japan, seemed to me more acceptable than the same part of the Taipei painting. The later stages of our correspondence concentrated on this part of the composition, in which two women are seen arranging objects on a table for the appreciation of the men, and removing the cover from a qin or zither, which one of the men will play.

S,S. Here are the two versions of this part, side by side. Apart from quite a few details in which the Yale version makes sense and the other doesn’t--the women’s hair ornaments, the scroll ties, the rumpling of their robes--the spatial relationship between the two women is tight and effective in the Yale version, and quite lost in the other. But perhaps the most telling detail--so much so that after pointing it out I wrote that I would like to add q.e.d., I have proved my case--is the bronze tripod.

S,S. Its three legs, in the Yale version, are set properly into the circular recess in the shallow stand, which flares slightly at the base. The copyist responsible for the Taipei picture messes up this passage completely. Besides exaggerating the flaring of the stand into a grotesque form, he inserts two legs of the tripod at diametrically opposite points in the circular recess; realizes that if he were to paint in the third leg, it must hang out beyond the stand; and decides to leave it out, to avoid doing over the whole large and elaborate picture, hoping that his viewers would overlook his blunder. As indeed they have, through centuries of inattention to the pictorial aspects of paintings. I now refer to anomalies of this kind, when we encounter them in paintings, as two-legged tripods, and make the contention, which seems to me self-evident and unassailable, that in cases such as this and the Shen Zhou scroll, the derivative works cannot be other than that--cannot, that is, be reasonably understood as anything other than the outcome of garbled attempts to replicate pre-existing pictorial configurations. No appeals to good artists having bad days, or to clumsy studio assistants (who would quickly have lost their jobs), or to the Chinese painter’s scorn for petty matters of representation, can shake this. To say (as has been said) that I am advocating realism in Chinese painting, and that this is an inappropriate criterion, is to miss the point entirely and deliberately. Realism is not at issue; what is at issue is simply the need for the artist to draw forms that are representationally readable, as any good artist will do, whatever his style.

S,S. A different set of problems is presented by paintings wrongly attributed--works by lesser artists credited to greater ones, to increase their value, or works by painters whose skills permitted them to re-create, well enough to deceive their contemporaries, the styles of the old masters. One who could do this was the late 17th-early 18th century landscapist Wang Hui--he is said to have been urged by dealers not to sign his works in old styles, so that they could be sold with spurious claims to antiquity. It seems likely that Wang Hui also made deliberate forgeries on occasion. The success he enjoyed in this may seem strange to us now, when his imitations leave us unconvinced. Until quite recently, the winter landscape by Wang Hui at left might have been seen hanging in the National Palace Museum in Taipei beside the great work of the 10th-11th century master Fan Kuan at right, one of the fairly few unquestioned masterworks of early landscape; and Wang’s work would have been identified in the wall label as by Fan Kuan’s contemporary Xu Daoning. In attempting to argue why it cannot possibly be a work of early date or by Xu Daoning, we would have to resort to criteria that are quite foreign to traditional Chinese connoisseurship: the idea of period style, or (as I would do) the impossibility of finding in early landscape any such violent distortions of natural form as are seen here. (Once one notices the human foot at the top, the picture can no longer be taken seriously.) One cannot arrive at a valid judgement in this case, I believe, by criteria of brushwork alone. But in resorting to others, we open ourselves to charges of applying, in an Orientalist way, inappropriate western standards to Chinese painting.

S --. It is not that the Fan Kuan painting has no distinctive brushwork, but that the hand of the artist is absorbed into the deeply naturalistic portrayal of geological forms and phenomena, and cannot be read as symptomatic of the artist’s personality. The painting is not genuine, then, because it is “in the hand of Fan Kuan” but because it fulfills criteria we can derive from other reliable landscape paintings of early Song date, including the quality I am calling, while realizing that the term is imprecise and vulnerable, “pictorial integrity.”

S --. This lack of shared vocabulary and common conceptual tools for dealing with early painting makes it difficult for those of us trained in western art history to discuss questions of authenticity with Chinese colleagues, who are, some of them, extremely sharp-eyed--on the whole, probably better than we--for later Chinese painting, but less secure, I think, in the early periods. I’ve been challenged more than once in China, for instance, to explain why this work ascribed to Fan Kuan in the Tientsin Museum, much reproduced in Chinese books, is not as believable for us as the painting in Taipei, and have not found it easy to do. (It has to do with observing how elements of the artist’s style that begin as descriptive of natural appearances end up as schematic and heavy-handed conventions in the works of followers.) The most famous connoisseur in China, Xu Bangda, was largely responsible for putting together the great Palace Museum collection in Beijing, so there can be no question about the high level of his judgements of authenticity in paintings. But when he writes about his methods, matters of style are scarcely brought into play. He does it, that is, without articulating it; and that is probably true of a great deal of Chinese connoisseurship. But realizing this does not make our communication easier.

S --. In this copy by Wang Hui of Fan Kuan’s masterwork, Wang does use brushwork and a system of forms that is more distinctively his own, and a judgement on the basis of brushwork could in principle be validly made. But we know that this copy was preferred by the 18th-century Qianlong Emperor and his court connoisseurs to the original, as an early masterwork; and until fairly recently one could find it hanging in the Palace Museum as the work of Fan Kuan.

I should emphasize here that I am certainly not claiming infallibility--I could give another lecture on connoisseurial mistakes I have made, some of them quite embarrassing. I am only saying that if we can bring ourselves to look at the paintings as pictures, as they were originally intended, and look for what I now call pictorial integrity, we will often--not always, but often--find the solution to our problems at hand.

S,S. Finally, and briefly, the problem of the deliberate forger. For European painting, the most famous of recent times was Hans van Meegeren, the Dutch artist who in the 1930s forged Vermeer and other 17th century Dutch painters, and whose success, for a limited period of time, has stimulated a whole reconsideration of the problem of forgeries. For Chinese painting, it is without question Zhang Daqian, who died in 1983. (Describe photos. Zhang, whom I knew well, was much more likeable and stable than van Meegeren, who seems to have been embittered and neurotic.) A major painter in his own right, Zhang Daqian was also a dealer--many genuine old paintings passed through his hands--and knowledgeable enough as a scholar to construct elaborate provenances for his forgeries, a function usually performed in the west by people other than the artist. As a forger Zhang was more brilliant and versatile by far than van Meegeren, since his fabrications covered most of the history of Chinese painting, at least from the 8th century to the 18th, and an astonishing number of artists--a circumstance that obviously calls into question any confidence in the “artist’s hand” as an indicator of authorship. For certain painters, notably the great 17th-18th century Individualist master Shitao, determining a reliable oeuvre is even today made difficult by the danger of including Zhang Daqian’s forgeries in it.

S,S. Most interesting for the art historian, however, are Zhang Daqian’s fakes of early paintings. Early in his career he visited the cave temples at Dunhuang and copied many of the Buddhist wall paintings; on this basis he went on to produce also quite a few forgeries of Dunhuang portable paintings on silk, of the kind that were found in some numbers in the caves. One, at left and in the detail, was ably dealt with in the 1962 article by Wen Fong, who recognized it as copied from one of the published wall paintings at Dunhuang (at right in the double slide.) As Fong points out, the ability of the nameless Tang master to render three-dimensional form readably in volumetric line drawing (for instance, in the Bodhisattva’s ear and hand) proves unrecapturable for the 20th-century artist, however skilled he may be for his time. I could not easily tell you why, even if time permitted; except to say it’s the same reason we cannot compose a completely convincing Shakespeare sonnet or Mozart quartet, or paint a Raphael or a Vermeer that will hold up for long. Wen Fong recounts how this painting was put through exhaustive technical analysis in Tokyo, and passed so swimmingly that “There were . . . plans afoot to publish the findings as a standard textbook analysis of a T’ang painting.”

S,S. Another of Zhang’s Dunhuang forgeries was offered to the Freer Gallery of Art while I was curator there, in 1957 or ‘58, and fared less well under examination: the yellow pigment proved to be a chemical compound not used until the 19th century, and our then-scroll mounter Takashi Sugiura immediately pronounced the silk to be modern Japanese. Technical examination of paintings can sometimes supply negative evidence; it can virtually never prove authenticity.

S,S. When Zhang was copying an earlier picture--and his sources were many and varied--his forgeries can sometimes be detected by identifying his model. He might begin, as here, with a woodblock print from an 18th century Japanese book, and turn it into an 8th century Chinese painting;

S,S. or he might adopt the composition of a painting by the modern Japanese artist Hashimoto Kansetsu, done in 1929, and transform it into a long-lost work by the Tang (also eighth century) figure master Zhang Xuan. I have identified the sources of quite a few of Zhang’s forgeries, and my colleague Fu Shen identified others in the catalog for his 1991 Zhang Daqian exhibition, in which some of Zhang’s forgeries were included as such.

S,S. Hans van Meegeren raised an embarrassing problem for art historians in the European painting field; Zhang Daqian has done the same for us. Van Meegeren’s “Disciples at Emaus,” the most successful of his “Vermeer” forgeries and the one on which he expended the most time and care, both in painting it and in aging it, not only convinced major specialists at the time, but still has its defenders, who insist that it should be exempted from the list of spurious works. And yet any good graduate student in that field could write a convincing essay now on why it cannot be a work of Vermeer or of the 17th century; and not simply by hindsight--it “looks” wrong, and is demonstrably wrong, in style. Among other criteria, our graduate student would use van Meegeren’s later and more quickly painted forgeries, such as the “Christ Among the Doctors” at right, to identify the forger’s style and hand and recognize them in the “Disciples at Emaus.”

--S. The same is true of Zhang Daqian’s forgeries--collectively, they serve to betray each other. This painting, supposed to be by the Tang-period horse specialist Han Gan, was purchased for an unprecedentedly high price by the French government in the 1950s; this was before others of Zhang’s forgeries in other public collections came to be identified and available for comparison. An impressive list of eminent art historians and sinologues endorsed the purchase. While I was teaching at Berkeley, I regularly used the work (in this slide) as a test piece for students in my early Chinese painting class, and the sharp-eyed ones wrote about why it could not possibly be a work of Tang date. (Show what’s wrong.)

S--. (Another by van Meegeren: The Last Supper. Exactly the same fault: fails to set figures convincingly in space.)

How to reconcile these judgements? I’m certainly not claiming that my teaching methods turned my students into better connoisseurs than their well-established elders, any more than the hypothetical grad student in European painting is better than the experts who authenticated the van Meegerens. I can only echo the common observation that forgeries have a limited life, and that impressive finish and an appearance of great age can divert even sophisticated viewers of a work of art into failing to subject it to a skeptical visual analysis, or to accept the outcome easily when it proves negative.

Those of you who keep up with events in the art world will be aware that I have avoided, as Jerome probably will avoid, touching on a work that has been a center of heavy controversy over the past two years or so, a work that I would regard as Zhang Daqian’s “Disciples at Emaus” in that it’s his most carefully done, most successful forgery, so much so that many people who recognize the others still balk at this one. I suspect that the choice of “Chinese Art and Authenticity” as the theme for tonight’s meeting may have been suggested by the numerous reports of this controversy in the popular press, and the buzz about it in academic circles. Both Jerome and I felt, however, that we’ve talked and written and published enough about that painting and its problems already, and that a more general consideration of larger issues was in order. And yet, much of what I’ve said tonight is directly relevant to that work; especially in this last section, I have in effect been talking around it without mentioning it. There is quite enough to read on that subject for anyone who wants to pursue it. And now, with great anticipation and confidence, I yield the podium to Professor Jerome Silbergeld.

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