How Much is a Famous Forgery Worth?

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Felix Salmon has an interesting post today about the phenomenal recent sales growth of works by two early/mid 20th century Chinese painters, Zhang Daqian and Qi Bashi. In 2008, both accounted for only a few million dollars in paintings sold at auction. In 2011, extrapolating from auction sales through June, they accounted for nearly a billion dollars each.

Impressive! But I had never heard of either of them, so I checked out Wikipedia to educate myself ever so slightly. Interestingly, I learned that Zhang Daqian, in addition to being a great artist in his own right, was also one of the great forgers of the twentieth century. “So prodigious was his virtuosity within the medium of Chinese ink and colour,” says Chen Jiazi, “that it seemed he could paint anything. His output spanned a huge range, from archaising works based on the early masters of Chinese painting to the innovations of his late works which connect with the language of Western abstract art.”

So here’s my question: Is a Zhang forgery now a valuable commodity too? Would it be cool to hang one in my living room as a forgery? That is, not on the pretense that it’s an original 12th-century Song Dynasty landscape, but specifically that it’s a forgery of a 12th-century Song Dynasty landscape by a famous forger. Anyone happen to know?

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Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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