Internationally possibly one of the best-known 20th Century Chinese painters, Zhang Daqian was a remarkable artist and a highly skilled and gifted forger. While initially he was considered a traditional Chinese, or guohua, painter, later in his artistic career he became heavily involved in modern impressionism and expressionism.
Zhang was born in 1899 to a family of artists in Sichuan province. While still very young he first learnt drawing techniques from his mother. Following a period of study accompanied by his brother (also a famous painter – particularly of tigers) in Japan learning how to dye textiles, he returned to China to sell his paintings in Shanghai. In 1940 he was the leader of a group of artists sent to the Dunhuang Caves to copy the magnificent Buddhist wall art there.
The political turmoil in 1949 caused him to move to the Americas in 1952. He spent almost 30 years living abroad in Argentina, Brazil, and California in the USA. During this time he acquired and developed artistic techniques and styles which completely changed the nature of traditional Chinese painting. His failing eyesight also led to the development of his pocai style, characterised by splashed colour – an adaptation of an abstract expressionist technique. In 1978 he settled down in Taiwan having spent the previous decades travelling extensively and exhibiting his works. During his time abroad, he gained international recognition among the global artistic community, and met such famous artists as Picasso in 1956. This was seen as a symbolic artistic meeting of east and west.
An attractive three-coin set issued in 1999 by the China Mint commemorates the 100th anniversary of Zhang Daqian’s birth. The coins are a distinctive rectangular shape, displaying an image of Zhang on the obverse faces, and three of his works on the reverse faces featuring an ox, flowers, and a bird.