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Self-portrait presented to Wang Jiyuan

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

Ink on paper
W: 71.5 cm

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

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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