ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)
ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)

Tibetan Dancer

ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)
Tibetan Dancer
Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper
106.6 x 60 cm. (42 x 23 5⁄8 in.)
Inscribed and signed, with two seals of the artist
Dated yiyou year (1945)
The Chia-Chu and Siao-Mei Chang Collection;
Christie’s Hong Kong, Fine Chinese Modern Paintings, 29 May 2012, Lot 3072.
Further details
This painting was previously in the collection of Chia-chu (C.C.) and Siao-mei (S.M.) Chang. Siao-mei came from a wealthy Ningbo family and was one of the first Chinese female doctoral graduates of the London School of Economics. She was hired by Chang Jia-ao (Chang Kia-ngau), Governor of the Central Bank of China, to be Director of the Research Department. Chang Jia-ao introduced her to his younger brother Chang Chia-chu, acting director of the Foreign Trade Bureau. She was made Director of the Chinese Economics Research Institute due to her many publications focusing on South-West China in raw materials and finance. C.C.and S.M. were married in 1934.

C.C. Chang was an industrialist, a prominent businessman, a promoter of foreign trade in China and General Manager of China Vegetable Oil. C.C. was also passionate about art, literature and music. He enjoyed being part of Mei Lanfang’s American tour in 1930, where he worked under his brother Chang Jia-ao. He also loved the poems by Xu Zhimo.

C.C. and S.M. most likely became acquainted with Zhang Daqian in Chongqing in the early 1940s. The couple moved to Shanghai in 1946 and in 1949, moved to Japan for four years, then they lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from 1953 to 1967, and finally in San Francisco from 1967 to the end of their lives. Their friendship with the artist developed further through a few shared meals in Sao Paulo. The families got to know each other well, and they visited Zhang from San Francisco when he resided in Carmel. Zhang Daqian was particularly fond of the “fishtail cooked in chicken fat” in his favourite restaurant in New York, Canton Restaurant on Canal Street, where C.C. and Zhang dined in 1963. C.C. and S.M. passed away in 1985 and 2000 respectively.

In 1941, Zhang Daqian embarked on an expedition to Dunhuang to study the magnificent Buddhist murals. While on the journey, he travelled through Gansu and Qinghai provinces and encountered the Tibetan tribe for the very first time. Upon seeing the richness of the Tibetan culture, the artist made many sketches to record what he saw. The unfamiliar people and culture would inspire him to paint a series of rare, career-defining works on the theme. The Dunhuang expedition proved to be a creative breakthrough for the artist - for he developed an acute sensitivity to fine details such as hands, hairdos, faces, and clothes through observing and painstakingly copying the cave murals. When he returned to Sichuan in 1943, his figure paintings reached a zenith - as seen in the refinement and finesse in his colour pigment application, the delineation of facial expressions and postures, and the attention to detail.

Composed of exquisite fine brushwork, rhythmic double lines and luxurious and fantastic colours, Tibetan Dancer was a great example of Zhang Daqian’s painting informed by his experience in Dunhuang. It was painted in 1945 when Zhang was lodging in the Zhaojue Buddhist temple in Chengdu. The Tibetan dancer is dancing with her raised arm while holding a bowl. She is wearing a spectacular bancha, a traditional herder dress which consists of an animal cap and a fur-lined wrap-around robe in bright red. Zhang Daqian used numerous feather-like strokes on top of layers of colours to convey the softness of the fur on the dancer’s costume. He also applied multiple layers of ink to illustrate the thickness of the fabric. The red colour on the dancer’s robe, so iconic in Zhang’s Tibetan girl paintings, is from a mineral colour pigment inspired by the Dunhuang cave murals. Borrowing from the Buddha’s elegant and diverse hand gestures he saw in the same murals, Zhang painted the beautifully elongated hands and fingers for the Tibetan dancer. Her chiselled face, accentuated by a fair complexion and a bright rouge cheek, reminds us of Peking opera artist makeup. One would not be surprised to see the connection knowing Zhang’s love for Peking opera and his friendship with many leading actors in the field.

Tibetan girls are among some of the rarest subject matters of Zhang Daqian’s oeuvre, for he only painted them in the few years following his Dunhuang trip. A similar work of a Tibetan dancer with a mastiff, created by the artist in 1945, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2006 (see illustration).

Brought to you by

Carmen Shek Cerne (石嘉雯)
Carmen Shek Cerne (石嘉雯) Vice President, Head of Department, Chinese Paintings

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