Zhang Daqian

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Chang Ta-ch'ien
Related People

Biography in English

Chang Ta-ch'ien (10 May 1899-), painter and dilettante, gained an international reputation for both his paintings in several classical styles and for his copies of the Tunhuang cave paintings in Kansu. A native of Neichiang, Szechwan, Chang Ta-ch'ien was one of the eight children of Chang Huai-chung and Tseng Yi, herself a painter. Chang had his first painting lessons from his mother and by the age of 1 2 was already skilled in making flower, figure, and landscape studies. He received his early education in Chinese classics from his elder sister until her death in 1911. In that year the Chang family was in official disfavor because of the anti- Manchu revolutionary activities of Chang's elder brother, Chang Shan-tzu. Later, Chang Shan-tzu was involved in the 1915-16 movement against Yuan Shih-k'ai, but eventually abandoned politics for painting and became noted for his studies of tigers. Chang Ta-ch'ien's younger brother Chang Chun-shou was also a painter.

In 1914 Chang Ta-ch'ien was sent to the middle school at Hsuching, where he remained until 1916. By his own account, he was kidnapped by bandits in that year, was held for ransom, escaped, and made his way to Shanghai, where he arrived in December 1916. In April 1917 he went to Kyoto to live with his brother Chang Shan-tzu. There Chang Ta-ch'ien learned the art of painting on textiles. Chang Ta-ch'ien returned to Shanghai in 1919 and became a pupil of the scholar Tseng Hsi. Then he entered a Buddhist monastery at Sungkiang where the abbot, Yi-lin, a poetcalligrapher-painter, gave Chang the name of Ta-ch'ien, which he retained after his period of monastic seclusion was ended. He then returned to Szechwan and married. Then, on the advice of Tseng Hsi, he returned to Shanghai to study under Li Jui-ch'ing (1867-1920), a painter who also taught him seal-style calligraphy. When Li died, Chang went to Szechwan where he remained until the death of his father in 1925. During this period he made a deep study of the work of the two seventeenth-century monk painters, Shih T'ao (1630-C.1707; Tao Ch'i) and Pa-ta Shan-jen (1626-C.1705; Chu Ta), both of whom had a lasting influence on his own painting. In 1926, Chang made his home in Shanghai. The next year he began to travel extensively through China, visiting the mountains, lakes, and gorges which had inspired the great Chinese masters of the past.

In 1929 Chang Ta-ch'ien was elected to the selection committee of the National Exhibition of Fine Arts held at Nanking under the auspices of the ministry of education and organized by the Cantonese painter Kao Chien-fu (Kao Lun, q.v.). Chang and his brother Chang Shan-tzu were sent to Japan as official delegates to an important exhibition of classical Chinese painting held in Tokyo. In the following year Chang moved to an old house in Soochow and amused himself for a period with horticulture and in keeping monkeys and a pet tiger. By 1933 he had moved to Peking. In that year his work attracted notice when it was included in a large exhibition of Chinese painting held at the Musee du Jeu de Paume in Paris.

In the spring of 1934 Chang held a successful exhibition at Nanking. In the autumn he climbed the famous Hua Shan with his brother, and in December he returned to Japan. He visited the Lung Men caves in 1935 and held an exhibition at Peking in September. In 1936 he went to Nanking to teach in the art department of National Central University under Hsu Pei-hung (q.v.), and he held an exhibition in Shanghai which added considerably to his reputation. In 1937 Chang returned to Peking. On 7 July, the day of the Marco Polo Bridge incident, he was arrested by the Japanese, but was released on parole after a week's confinement. In 1938 he escaped from Peking and returned to Szechwan. The next year he spent visiting places in west China which were famous for their beauty, including O-mei Shan and Ching-cheng Shan. In 1940 Chang Ta-ch'ien went to the Tunhuang caves in Kansu province. He was so impressed by the Buddhist frescoes that he organized a band of helpers; in the next two years they made more than two hundred copies of the wall paintings in the caves. In 1943 he held an exhibition of his own paintings in Chengtu, and in January 1944 he showed the copies made at Tunhuang, going on to Chungking with them in May. They caused widespread interest, for it was the first time the general public was able to form an impression of the old Buddhist masterpieces. Reproductions of his copies were printed with critical introductions. In 1945 Chang held another exhibition in Chengtu, and in 1946 he returned to Peking. In the same year the UNESCO exhibition of contemporary painting was held in Paris at the Musee d'Art Moderne, and 12 of Chang's works were included in the Chinese section. The exhibition toured London, Geneva, and Prague. In November 1946 and in May 1947 Chang held exhibitions in Shanghai. In 1948 he went to Hong Kong where he held an exhibition before leaving for Taipei.

In January 1950, Chang was invited by the All-India Fine Arts and Crafts Society to hold an exhibition in New Delhi. Another exhibition was held in Hyderabad in May, and Chang stayed in India for the rest of the year, spending three months studying the frescoes in the Ajanta caves. He then returned to Hong Kong, but in 1952 he left for Argentina with his family. By 1953 he was traveling once more, first to the -United States, where he held an exhibition at the China Institute in New York in September, and then on to Taiwan to visit the collection of ancient paintings belonging to the former imperial palace collection. In 1954 Chang moved his home to Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 1955 he went to Tokyo, where four volumes of reproductions of old paintings from his personal collection were published. While there, he held an exhibition of his own works. In January 1956, Chang made his first trip to Europe, visiting Rome and Paris. In June and July he held an exhibition of his paintings in Paris at the Musee d'art Moderne. Afterwards he was the guest of Pablo Picasso at his villa, La Californie, in the south of France. Chang also showed some of the old paintings from his collection in an exhibition at the Musee Cernuschi in Paris. He returned to Brazil by way of Asia in 1957. In 1961 he visited Paris a second time, and he was interviewed by Andre Masson, with whom he discussed the principles of Chinese painting.

It is difficult to estimate what Chang Tach'ien's place in the history of Chinese painting will be. He was an eclectic and prolific painter, but the bulk of his work remains in private collections and is not generally accessible to the public. In his interview with Masson, Chang said that "the goal and aspiration of every Chinese painter is to be able to express with his hand that which is in his spirit." His own command of ink and brush certainly qualified him in the first sense, although his creations were scarcely original in content—he followed implicitly the well-trodden paths of the Chinese masters. To the Western observer there is something disconcerting about the facility with which Chang turned from painting landscapes identical in brushwork and subject with the masters of the southern 'school to making studies which were based directly on the Tunhuang frescoes. He was admired by some for his paintings of women, which show the strong influence of his Tunhuang phase, but his most representative works are landscapes and large, bold renderings of lotus and other flowers.

Chang's famous collection of old Chinese paintings were his constant inspiration and guide. Indeed there are several apocryphal stories concerning his ability to make copies of the masters which are indistinguishable from the originals, even by Chang. Nevertheless, Chang Ta-ch'ien commands a healthy respect among his own people for the manner in which he perpetuated the spirit and tradition of the artist's vision according to classical Chinese precepts. Chang was a restless, ebullient character with a long beard which he wore in the style of the old Chinese sages. He was reputed to be a connoisseur of wine and women. In China he always employed special cooks, whose reputations were enhanced by working for the artistgourmet. Chang Ta-ch'ien was one of the last examples of the traditional Chinese romantic artist, and he consistently accepted this role in both his work and his life.

Biography in Chinese


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