In Pursuit of Classical Professionalism: A Consistent Feature of Zhang Daqian and His Art

Law, Suk Mun Sophia 羅淑敏
Supervisor: Prof. Q.L. Wan

The richness and complexity of Zhang Daqian’s life and art contributed to the great success of his career on one hand; and created many controversies in evaluating his position in history on the other. With his many cross-boundary features such as tradition versus modernity, literati versus professional, there lacks a precise term to coherently describe his pursuits.

Many features of Zhang Daqian’s life and art reflect his nature of and affinity for professionalism, which have not been thoroughly discussed. The characterization of ‘professional painter’ did not appear in pre-Song times. All the ancient painting masters were graded solely on their painting achievements. These masters possessed prominent features of professionalism and established one of the greatest painting traditions in history. To acknowledge both features of the professionalism and the significant influence on painting history of these masters, this paper will coin a new term, ‘classical professionalism’, for the painting tradition of the pre-Song masters. Nowadays, Pre-Song painting styles are best illustrated by Dunhuang Murals, Tang figural paintings and the ancient monumental landscape of the Five Dynasties. All these paintings paid important roles in Zhang Daqian’s artistic development.

This paper seeks to establish an understanding of Zhang Daqian’s artistic pursuit and how he relates to the tradition of I classical professionalism’. A study of his sojourn in Dunhuang, his life, his artistic beliefs and style, together reveal a consistency pointing to a professional spirit. Zhang Daqian’s life incidents reflect his recognition and acceptance of professionalism. His artistic development shows his conscious efforts in acquiring professional specialization of the different ancient painting traditions. His paintings, though in diverse styles, all share a common expression of monumentality, grandeur and aesthetic richness. Throughout his life and creativity, Zhang Daqian was constantly pursuing technical excellence, unique artistic conception and aestheticism, all of which are the core characteristics of classical professionalism.