Zhang Daqian (Chinese, 1899–1983)
Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
23 3/4 x 37 3/4 in. (60.3 x 95.9 cm)
Inscribed by the artist
Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, in memory of La Ferne Hatfield Ellsworth, 1986 (1986.267.361)
After 1949, Zhang lived for a time in Hong Kong and India before building residences in São Paolo, Carmel (in California), and Taiwan. His long residency outside China inevitably brought him into contact with currents of modern Western art, including Abstract Expressionism. This work, painted with intense mineral colors and broad washes of layered ink, may represent Zhang's response to such influences.
Zhang maintained that such works, which first appeared in 1956, when he was in Europe, derived from the "broken-ink" techniques of random splashing and soaking used by Tang dynasty (618907) artists, but it seems more likely that his encounter with Western abstract art encouraged him to carry further the Japanese technique of splashed colors that he had used in earlier works. Clearly he welcomed the liberating effect of this painting mode on his creativity, which gave a spontaneity to his compositions. In spite of their abstract qualities, however, these paintings remained resolutely descriptive of the natural world. Here, Zhang first applied ink and color in a seemingly random manner, then added contour lines and other pictorial details in order to transform his composition into a highly suggestive vision of storm-engulfed mountains suddenly illuminated by a burst of sunlight that has turned the somber clouds iridescent.