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Calligraphic and Painting Masterpieces Donated by Zhang Boju


Zhang Boju (1898-1982), originally named Zhang Jiaqi and styled Congbi, was also known by his sobriquet "Mr. Agreeable". As a famous collector and appraiser of ancient Chinese painting and calligraphy and expert of poetry in China, he once held the positions of special committee member of the Palace Museum, appraisal committee member of State Administration of Cultural Heritage, associate research fellow and Vice Director of Jilin Provincial Museum as well as honorary research fellow of Central Research Institute of Culture and History. Zhang began to collect ancient Chinese painting and calligraphy out of interest when he was thirty years old, then regarded keeping significant Chinese cultural heritages from drifting overseas as his responsibility and never thought of changing his mind even if he had to sell his family property or borrow money in order to fulfill this task. As he put it himself: "I was born in times of disorder and regretted that I read very little. After I reached thirty, I loved painting and calligraphy so much that I could not help buying masterpieces and monumental works even if I had to save and borrow money. Though being criticized and sneered at, I never regretted." The painting Spring Excursion (Youchun tu) turned him from the rich to the poor. Even when kidnapped and threatened with death, he still said, "I would rather die in the den of monsters than selling my collection." His legendary experience became a much-told tale. Out of profound understanding and ardent love of Chinese cultural heritage, Zhang tried to protect rare cultural relics at any cost, even did not hesitate to sacrifice his life. He did have eye for masterpieces. In his collection, every piece could be counted as resplendent treasure in art history. For example, A Consoling Letter (Pingfu tie) is the earliest handwriting by celebrity handed down to posterity while Spring Excursion is not only the earliest scroll painting but also the earliest landscape painting. Besides, Courtesan Zhang Haohao in Running Script(Zhang Haohao shijuan), Quotations from Wenyi Written by Huang Tingjian (Zhu shangzuo tie), Returning Boat on a Snowy River (Xuejiang guizhao tu), and Mountain Retreat(Shanju tu), all occupy unique positions in art history. Zhang Boju and his wife Pan Su did not regard those painting and calligraphic masterpieces purchased at great expense and defended with painstaking effort as their own property. In their eyes, these treasures belong to China. From 1950, Mr. and Mrs. Zhang donated their collection in succession to their country so that these rare cultural relics could become significant treasures of Chinese museums. This action displays their lofty patriotism and selfless devotion. Like them, we also wish that Chinese treasures could be preserved in China one generation after another. In memory of the great collector who passed away twenty years ago on Feb. 26, 2002, we especially show seventeen painting and calligraphic masterpieces once in his collection. (Column Master: Nie Hui)

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