Zhang Daqian is one of the most well-known artists of the 20th century. Known for his shifting styles, he began as a guohua painter but was later regarded as an Impressionist and Expressionist painter.
Zhang was born in 1899 in Sichuan Province. He belonged to an artistic family, and first learned painting from his mother and older siblings. In 1917, he moved to Kyoto to study painting and textile dyeing techniques. Returning to Shanghai in 1919, Zhang began studying art under Zeng Xi and established a successful art career. In 1940, he was sent to Dunhuang to copy ancient Buddhist art. In Zhang’s two years and seven months there, he finished 276 pieces. In 1945, he held exhibitions in Paris, London, Prague and Geneva.
In 1949, Zhang headed to Taiwan, and later settled in Hong Kong. A year after, Zhang was invited to hold an exhibition in New Delhi, India, where he visited the Ajanta caves and compared the murals against those in Dunhuang. During his time in India, he produced many works with intricate details and techniques. In 1956, Zhang met up with Picasso in Nice, France, where the two exchanged paintings.
Zhang’s influence began spreading internationally, and he frequently travelled to and from one continent to another, holding exhibitions and gathering inspiration. He started developing a new style with splashes of coloured ink, combining Abstract Expressionism and traditional guohua. He expressed that there shouldn’t be a line between Eastern and Western art. Zhang believed that integrating the two meant perhaps using ink to paint Western paintings, and oil to paint guohua.
Zhang settled in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California in 1967. His first solo exhibition in California was in the same year at Stanford University where his works attracted a crowd of thousands. His stay in the States marked a period of peak production for Zhang. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Pacific in 1974.
In Taiwan, Zhang frequently held exhibitions at the National Museum of History. He was awarded the Order of Chiang Chung-Cheng in 1982. He died a year after in Taipei at the age of 83.