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Zhang Daqian (Chinese, 1899-1983)

Waterfall on a Lofty Cliff, 20th century

Waterfall on a Lofty Cliff, 20th century

Ink and color on paper 12 3/8 in. x 24 1/4 in. (31.43 cm x 61.6 cm)

Crocker Art Museum, gift of The Chinese Collection of Sandra and Franklin Yee


  • Zhang Daqian is perhaps the most famous Chinese painter of the 20th century. Best known for his ability to paint in any style of Chinese painting, he is also credited with creating a modern style of Chinese painting based on his innovative use of splashed ink and color. He was born into an artistic family, and his mother and siblings were his earliest teachers. Upon his return from studying weaving and textile dyeing in Japan from 1917–1919, Daqian became the student of the calligraphists Zeng Xi and, subsequently, Li Ruiqing in Shanghai. In 1948, Zhang left China for Brazil then eventually moved to Carmel, California, before finally settling in Taipei, Taiwan.
    In a training method typical of art students in China, Daqian made copies of artistic masterworks. He especially admired the Originalist painters Bada Shanren and Shitao. Zhang learned all of the traditional Chinese painting techniques: xieyei (literally “writing the idea”), which employs free and spontaneous brushwork; gongbi, which features precise and detailed brushwork and coloring; mogu, or boneless painting, which creates form using color rather than outlines; and pomo, or brokenink painting.
    This painting is in his later, splashed ink and color style. The landscape is abstracted, almost to the point of dissolving his subject. There are many ideas as to why Zhang’s style changed as he entered his sixties. Some scholars argue that his painting became looser and more abstract because of his contact with the Abstract Expressionists in the 1960s. Others think he was influenced by the Japanese technique of splashed ink. Zhang himself claimed that this style was derived from the pomo technique of random splashing and soaking employed by Tang artists. —EA

    Reading the Brush: Waterfall on a Lofty Cliff

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