Zhang Daqian's versatility as an artist and his diverse talents are fully exemplified in the paintings that formerly belonged to the Dr. K. S. Lo Collection. These works are a testimony to Zhang's strength, passion, and experience, from them one can appreciate his life and his artistic transformation throughout a career spanning over 65 years.
For Zhang Daqian, the 1930s was a period of rigorous learning from the styles of classical masters, initiating his creative "revival" of ancient art. Clear Autumn in Wu Gorge is representative of Zhang's early landscape paintings and belongs to a series of works he painted in the same theme and period. Wu Gorge is one of the three gorges on the Yangtze River, through which Zhang frequently journeyed, traversing between Shanghai, where he learned to paint, and his hometown in Sichuan. He painted this piece in the style of Wang Jinqing (also known as Wang Shen, 1037-ca.1093) , an attribution to ancient masters (along with Zhang Sengyao and Yang Sheng) often inscribed on his landscape works. His source was likely Dong Qichang's copies, as little resemblance can be found in Wang's originals. Zhang's contemporary Wu Hufan (1894-1968) was also a possible influence - the two artists became friends in the 1920s and frequently studied each other's painting techniques. It is also of no surprise that Wu was most noted in his artistic career for his portrayal of Wu Gorge in autumn. Zhang gave forms to his mountains by building tinted washes and applying opaque colours. The lack of rigid outlines diffuses the autumn lights through the red cliffs and the foliage and blends the mists and clouds seamlessly. Zhang also deliberately left much of the painting uncoloured, using liu bai to portray a clear and crisp sky and water to highlight the autumn mountains, especially the highest and most notable Goddess Peak, which stood majestically above the clouds.
The Dunhuang period in the early 1940s transformed Zhang Daqian into an important figure in Chinese art history. The direct exposure to ancient Buddhist art had a long-lasting impact on him, and thereafter he continued to pursue and perfect his figure paintings. In Poets Li Bai and Du Fu, painted in 1948, Zhang paid tribute to the friendship between the two greatest poets from the Tang dynasty. Mainstream historical studies suggest that Li Bai (701-762) and Du Fu (712-770) first met in Luoyang in 744 when Li left his court officialdom; they met again the next year and travelled to Shandong. Even though Li Bai was 11 years senior, they had deep respect for each other and shared similar interests and fate in the demise of the Tang dynasty. Zhang drew his figures and their background with very fine lines, a feature characteristic of this genre at that time. Zhang even suggested that his fine skills of drawing might confuse viewers with the work by Northern Song painter Li Gonglin (1049-1106) , most renowned for his delicate and realistic portrayal of Lohan.
Zhang Daqian had special affection for lotus, for they hold special appeal in Chinese culture, the Buddhist religion, and Zhang's artistic oeuvre. Throughout his life Zhang planted lotus in his residences around the world for his appreciation and observation while painting. Ink Lotus was painted in 1944, the year Zhang first held a public exhibition of his copies of the Dunhuang cave murals in Sichuan. Here Zhang restrained the use of the bright and opaque colours he applied in Clear Autumn in Wu Gorge, giving precedence to ink in its various tonalities and using the xieyi method. Ink Lotus also illustrates Zhang's continuous pursuit of the classical tradition, especially that of Shitao. Shitao painted lotus by outlining the petal with light ink, and re-applied dark and heavy ink at the tip of the petal to emphasize shape and vitality. This trait is very noticeable in this painting. In between the balance of dry and wet, broad and fine brushstrokes, Zhang expressively displayed the spontaneity one sees in xieyi painting through bold calligraphic-like strokes. The sparkling white lotuses stand out from the stems and leaves and radiate a sense of beauty and purity, exuding its traditional Chinese symbolism of innocence and high morals.
Zhang Daqian's predilection for colour and his tireless experimentation would lay the very foundation of his splashed ink and colour technique. Lotus shows two exquisite vivid bright red lotuses; their shapes are accentuated by fine, sumptuous gold outline, a technique possibly attributed to the splendid Dunhuang murals that Zhang so venerated. The dark lotus leaves in the back are abstract in form and appearance. Layered by different intensities of splashed ink, such dark-toned background is softened and becomes surprisingly mellow and harmonious with the subject. At the age of 82, Zhang did not lose his strength and precision in his brush, but drew a powerful, dry long stroke across the painting to give visible presence to a lotus stem, without superimposing on the seemingly effortless but smooth composition. One would find that the lotuses portrayed by Zhang do not exist in reality but are believed to be from his imagination, in keeping with an ancient textluo yang jia lan ji from the sixth century, where a particular type of "crimson lotus" was mentioned, which he reiterated in the inscription. Differing from Ink Lotus, where the symbolic high moral ground of the flower is blatantly represented, Lotus signifies a vibrant impression, its decorative elegance, and Zhang's creative configuration. You can compare Lotus with The Fragrance of Lotus After Rain, sold at Christie's Hong Kong on 31 October 2004 (Lot 132) . The two works bear the same theme but exude very different ambience.
Spring Landscape after Rain was created late in Zhang Daqian's life when the artist had permanently moved back to Taiwan. Created in 1979, this astonishingly rhythmic ink-splashed painting sees ink and green colour spattered throughout, with bare patches on the paper left untouched in a semi-automatic process. Such an abstract piece allows to viewers to make full use of their imagination to interpret this richly coloured composition as the sky, clouds or river. Zhang added a few small houses, the only fine detail to provide 'reality' viewers in a realm of total abstraction. These paintings form the starkest contrast with Zhang's early works such as Clear Autumn in Gorge and fully manifest Zhang Daqian's ingenious adaptability to his habitat and skill.