Saturday, October 3, 2009

Chinese Painting Forgeries

There is a long history in China of forged artwork, and these days it has become a big business, with "painting factories" churning out cheap imitations of great works. Cheng Man-ch'ing's paintings have, along with those of hundreds of other artists, been forged, often quite ineptly.

A forger copies the format and content of the original painting (in most cases working from a printed version), but unless the forger is highly skilled, the net result is nowhere near the work of the master. In this example of a forgery (left), Cheng's style is superficially copied in terms of layout, content, and subject matter. However, we can see that the forgery has missed the mark: it is flat and unexpressive, the plant has no life in it, and the parts of the plant do not relate to each other. When compared to an original work of Cheng's (right), we can see that the authentic work is imbued with qi, and that everything--composition, line, detail, brushstroke, color--"hangs together" as a whole. The plant looks alive, as if the wind has blown it into place just at that moment.

What is missing in most forgeries is the indelible mark of the artist, the focus of the mind and execution of inner expression, sponteneity, feeling, depth, skill, and technique: the power of brushwork, strength of line, facility in ink tones, and an intimacy of understanding the interconnected brushstrokes of both painting and calligraphy.

Ironically, forgery in Chinese art is to a certain extent a byproduct of study. An aspiring artist is expected to master the styles of prior great artists, and gradually work towards development of his or her own style. In fact, Cheng Man-ch'ing's friend and colleague Zhang Daqian (張大千 Chang Ta-ch'ien, 1899–1983), one of the great figures of 20th-century Chinese art, took great delight in creating such skilled forgeries that he was regularly able to fool experts. Nevertheless, forgery remains trickery.

2/2017 Update: Readers can find a comprehensive article on Chinese art authenticity, connoisseurship, and artist Huang Binhong here in Chinese Heritage Quarterly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Seven Friends of Painting Exhibit

Cheng Man-ch'ing and six of his colleagues started the "Seven Friends of Painting Association" (七友畫會) in Taiwan, holding annual exhibits. This May, a retrospective exhibit is being held May 22–June 14, 2009 in honor of the group's 50th anniversary, at the National Museum of History in Taipei. The seven artists were Ma Shouhua, Chen Fang, Tao Yunlou, Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man-ch'ing, Liu Yantao, Gao Yihong, and Zhang Gunian (馬壽華、陳方、陶芸樓、鄭曼青、劉延濤、高逸鴻、張穀年), all influential figures in the painting scene during their lifetimes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cheng Man-ch'ing Videos

For t'ai chi ch'uan enthusiasts, a new authorized site has links to a number of video clips , and information about ordering DVDs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cheng Man-ch'ing's Literary Output

Professor Cheng Man-ch'ing had a love of reading, study, and writing that permeated everything he did. He was a college poetry instructor by his late teens, and as an artist, merged painting, poetry, and calligraphy into each of his works of art. He wrote poetry to mark occasions, to capture ideas and sentiments, and in honor of teachers, friends, and family. He wrote theoretical works about poetry, calligraphy, and painting, about medicine, and about tai chi ch'uan. Three compilations of his paintings were made, and he selected about five hundred poems for two volumes of his poetry. In his later years, Cheng distilled his thoughts on a number of Chinese classics: Lao-tzu's Tao Te Ching (Daodejing), the Analects of Confucius, the I Ching (Yijing), the Book of Poetry, and others.

Cheng wrote "as many books as he was tall" —all told, about twenty books. Of these, the one with possibly the most impact was his Cheng-tzu's Thirteen Treatises on T'ai Chi Ch'uan (鄭子太極拳十三篇), a work of theory, philosophy, and application aimed at an experienced audience. Cheng had worked on the book in the 1940s; it was published in the 1950s in Taiwan. It has since been translated into a number of different languages. In addition, he wrote several other books, still widely available, on t'ai chi ch'uan aimed at beginners, two of them in English.