Chang Dai-Chien (Zhang Daqian) was an outrageously popular and eclectic 20th Century Chinese artist and forger. Born in the Sichuan province, he initially studied art under his mother. In those early days, he began with outline drawings of animals and flowers ~ subjects he would perfect through the years. As a young man, he studied painting, weaving, and textile dying and design in Japan. Upon returning to China, he began studying and replication several 17th century Chinese calligraphers and painters. He earned his money selling these and his own works for some time. Although he would eventually travel around quite a bit, watching and learning from artists around the world, his style was eminently Chinese. That said, he earned a reputation for incorporating Brazilian and American techniques into his work, thus introducing new concepts of “Chinese” art.
He first made gained fame as a traditionalist painter (guohua), mimicking and replicating some of the great historical masters. He occasionally worked as a poet and popular calligrapher, studying all of these artistic mediums under various teachers. Later in his life, he would also become known for his modern impressionist and expressionist paintings, earning himself the name “Picasso of China.” His meeting with Picasso in 1956 was proclaimed to be the joining of the best of eastern and western modern art.
Some consider him to have been one of the greatest forgers of the 20th century, which is saying something since there were quite a few. His fakes were so well done that it is still hard to spot them, even with all of our advanced testing technology. His replicas of ancient art were masterpieces, and he copied both eastern and western artists. You can find a list of at least 63 suspected or known Daiqian forgeries at Professor James Cahill’s website.
Ultimately, his contributions to art were vast (30,000 of his own original works), both as an artists and as a art proponent. He helped found and represent any number of art organizations and societies, helping to share his and other Chinese artists works around the world. He also seems to have done a great deal for promoting Chinese artists within China itself. He lived and traveled all over the country, hosting art shows and teaching new students. You can find a complete year by year biography of his accomplishments and contributions via the website of the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Macao
- Li Juiching ~ Calligraphy teacher
- Shi Taoi ~ 17th century Chinese painter
- Zhu Da ~ 17th century Chinese Calligrapher and Painter that Dai-Chien would later copy.
- It should be noted that his excellence in forgery makes a “Dai-Chien” style sometimes hard to spot. Part of his characteristic style was the ability to perfectly adopt someone else’s.
- Buddhist Art ~ he took on several jobs where he copied or taught students to copy ancient Buddhist works.
- Tools ~ Chinese Ink and Paint
- Strategic use of colors.
- Flow ~ he often pulls the eye a certain direction by introducing flow into his art. Mountains painted in an upwards motion, trees flowing from left to right, etc.
- Use of Obvious Contrast ~bright colors against light backgrounds, really dark colors on brighter backgrounds, red on an otherwise black and white painting.
- Use of lighting ~ many of his works emphasize the use of lighting to illuminate or darken certain portions of the art.
- Birds and flower subjects were his realm of expertise.