Home > Collections > Chinese Art
Self-portrait presented to Wang Jiyuan
1965

Zhang Daqian (Chang Dai-chien) , (Chinese, 1899-1983)
Modern period

Ink on paper
W: 71.5 cm
China

Gift of the Estate of Wang Chi-yuan S1991.154

Enlarge this image | Purchase this image

In China, self-portraiture was little practiced before the modern era. Chang Dai-chien, arguably China's most brilliant twentieth-century artist, raised the genre's profile by painting at least one hundred self-portraits. Perhaps he liked self-portraiture because he was so comfortable being the center of attention, but he also saw its value as a tool for self-promotion. In everyday life, he dressed like his favorite eleventh-century poet and while still young he grew an old man's "long beard" in order to be noticed.

By the time Chang painted this image at the age of sixty-six, his reputation for giving away self-portraits was legendary. Since he almost always complied with friends'requests, many of his late portraits are quick and casual. Chang graced this one with a poem to his artist-friend Wang Chi-yuan (Wang Ji Yuan; 1895-1975), which recognizes how portraits bring near those who are distant:

My years look toward seventy and you're already there,
Matched as mortar and pestle, friends for forty years . . .
I've drawn my dusty visage to hang on your study wall,
That we whitebeards may see each other and take cheer.

Translation by Stephen D. Allee




Please note: The Freer Gallery of Art will be closed to the public from January 2016 until summer 2017. The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Library, and Archives will remain open for the duration of the renovation. Learn more »