Chapter I Discrimination Skills
Section I   What to Discriminate
There has been a myriad of authentic and false painting and calligraphy collections in the hands of private and public entities. The purpose of discrimination is to single out authentic collections from false ones.
There are names and seals of the calligrapher on some of works. To discriminate, we have to verify if the works have been really done by the calligrapher or if the name was really written by him and the seal was really the calligrapher’s.
There are also works without a name or seal, or inscriptions. The thing to do first is to determine the time it was done, and then to determine which school the work belongs to, and if possible which calligrapher it was. It might have been determined before by others, but such determination may not be right. Some most famous discriminators also made mistakes. So, you have to verify again.
Section II   Traditional Methods
Collectors used to put their own name and seal on the pieces they obtained, or record in a book the size, inscription, seal on the collected pieces. These works were then passed on to another person or generation.
The most common way is to check on the seals. If the seal can proof to be the calligrapher’s own seal, the work then is authentic; you should also check on the seals of collectors, if the seals are the collectors’ own, it is highly possible the work is authentic. As a prerequisite of this practice, you have to know the seals, that have been recognized to be ture, of both the ccalligrapher or the collector very well in such details as sizes, ways of writing the seal script, weight of strokes, ways of carving—whether the strokes protrude or hollow done. You then compare the accepted samples with those of the work you are reviewing, and if there is no descripencies, the work is authentic and if there are, the work is a fake.
Verification of inscriptions is another way of checking. There are two ways of checking. One is to check if the inscriptions were written by the calligrapher or the collector; the other is to check if the content, in forms of a poem or a few lines of prose, is proper.
The other ways include checking on ghost words that could never have been written by the original calligrapher, on dates of work or age of the calligrapher that have been wrongly written by the faker, and on name taboo that must have been avoided by the original calligrapher.
Section III   Ways of Faking
Faked famous painting and calligraphy with superb skills have been in existance for a long time. It is highly likely for any piece of famous ancient artist and calligrapher to be faked. There are also pseudograph of modern and contemporary works. So, we have to know how fakes are made.
1.   Imitation is always used by fakers. In the past, some antique dealers accepted pupils under the age of 10 and trained them in painting and calligraphy, one year or so later, the dealer would ask each of them to concentrate on imitating one particular ancient artist or calligrapher; these pupil would not be allowed to look at anything else, 10 or 20 years later, the imitated work by these young people could hardly be distinguished from the authentic ones. The dealer then tried to make the work look old by way of smoking and other means. The dealer then mounted the work in old ways and made the whole piece look aged.
The dealer then only sold the faked work at the hometown of the original calligrapher or where he stayed longer in his lifetime, because buyers are less on guard at these places.
Such a way of imitation is still in use, and with modern means such as slide projectors.
2.   Adding epigraph: Painters and calligraphers in Song and Yuan Dynasties rarely gave epigraphs or affix their seals on their works, this also happened in Ming and Qing Dynasties, but to a lesser degree. So, adding an epigraphy of a famous artist was a way of faking. Let’s take a painting of bamboo, the paper looked like a piece of Ming Dynasty paper, there was no epigraphy or inscription on it, if you add an inscription of a Song person, it would be easily seen through by others and if you add an inscription of a Qing person, the value would be less, so the best way was to add an inscription of a Ming person; you got to know who in the Ming was the best in painting bamboo, you found that Zhu Zhifan (朱之藩)was the best. The next thing to do was what script and seals Zhu used and if he had his own special habits, you then had to find one who could best imitate Zhu’s calligraphy; then the fluff on the paper would have to be pressed down, and the ink stick should be that was used by Zhu, and the final step was to age the inscription and the seals newly added.




A sample of folding screens

Replacing the epigraph with that of a more famous artist was also a way of faking.


4.   Cutting off the central parts from
folding screens: There were 4,6,8
and 12 piece-screens of mounted
paintings and calligraphy,
particularly in Ming and Qing
Dynasties and the central parts were
usually of high quality. There were
almost no inscriptions or seals on them. So, fakers, when they got hold of such screens, would cut off the central parts, process them and added inscription and seals of famous artists and sold them for a high price.
5.   Use of old paper: As a rule, the paper is older than the artist. Noted ancient artist liked to use old paper for their work. For instance, master in the Ming Dynasty used paper made in the Song. Paper made in Song, Yuan, Ming and early Qing can hardly be found nowadays. Yet, fakers found there were a lot blank spaces in copied sutras, so they cut them off for imitation. Those who dared imitating on such a piece of paper were highly skilled persons and their imitation themselves were good pieces and have some value, but they are fakes after all.
6.   Making up: ancient painting and calligraphy existed on silk and paper. The longest a piece of silk can last is 100 years, and for paper 1,000 years. So there have hardly been pieces of Tang And Song Dynasties being kept intact. When dealers got hold of such pieces, they made up the ruined parts and resold them.
7.   Peeling off the first layer: to mount a piece of work, a few layers of rice paper are used. When a faker got hold of famous piece, he would peel off the first layer and use the second layer, on which the original has been printed with a paler color, he would process the color and make it look as the original. So, you should be careful if you have a precious and rare piece to mount.
Section IV   Basis for Discrimination in Calligraphy
Main basis is the works themselves. To be specific, they are the bearings of the times the artists were in and their own personal styles.
As far as bearings of the times are concerned, calligraphy has been closely related to social, political, economic, cultural conditions and the habits of people. Take early Tang, the first emperor was eager to make progress and brought order to the whole country, correspondingly, in calligraphy, the characters were slim and solid. By the time mid-Tang, strokes became fleshy thanks to the taste of Emperor Xuanzong, who himself was a fine calligrapher, and most calligraphers followed suit, including Yan Zhenqing. Just as Liang Huan (梁瓛in Chinese that reads Liāng Huán) of Qing said about the overriding trends in various dynasties in his book entitled 《On Calligraphy Models评书帖》,“Jin Dynasty adored charm, Tang Dynasty valued rules, Song Dynasty accoladed expression of thoughts and Yuan Dynasty stressed postures of characters.”
As far as personal style is concerned, we have to know how a particular calligrapher used his pen, how he composed the strokes, and further the features of his works in early, middle and late periods.
We should also pay attention to the contents in the works such as poems, sayings, collocation of words, way of description, all of which may vary from dynasty to dynasty.
There are also supporting basis we can resort to, things like:
1.   seals and seal paste:we got to know the seals that were used are real ones; secondly, even if they were real ones, the work may not be the original, because after the calligrapher had passes away, his seals could still be used by others. In both Tang and Song dynasties, seal paste was mixed with honey, the color was paler; after Song the seal paste was oily, some artists started to use watermark.
2.   paper, silk and damask silk used for mounting: paintings and calligraphy were on silk in the Han Dynasty, very rarely on paper; more paper were used since Jin Dynasty, and starting from Yuan Dynasty damask silk began to be used. If we are able to acertain the age of paper, silk and damask silk, we shall be able to determine the year(s) of the work under review. Most fakes are on aged newer paper, which when compared with the original does not look comfortable.
3.   epigraph and inscriptions: artists did not put their names down in Han and Jin dynasties, a few did in Tang and Song only with seal, clerical and regular scripts and with a tiny seal; starting from Chunhua period of Song, artists put the dates down, mostly in regular script; longer inscriptions appeared in early Yuan. We should be also farmiliar with personal habits in inscription, for instance, Wen Zhengming (文征明)used small regular script in his late period in inscriptions.
Ways of mounting and ghostwriting can also be useful tools.
Section V   Discrimination of Seals
Gold and jade seals have rarely been faked because of difficulties. Stone seals have been often faked by two ways: processing low quality stones and make them look like famous precious stones; forging seals of prior generations.
1.   Discrimination of stones: since Ming Dynasty, Shoushan Stone, (寿山石in Chinese that reads shòu shān shí) Qingtian Stone (青田石in Chinese that reads qīng tián shí) and Changhua Stone (昌化石in Chinese that reads chāng huà shí) have been highly valued as precious material for carving seals. Tianhuang Stone (田黄石 in Chinese that reads tián huáng shí), a variety of Shoushan Stone is more expensive than gold and has been the target of faking. What

Unprocessed Tianhuang Stone


                            fakers did was to put ordinary stone from


                            Shoushan Mountain in boiling apricot water for 24 hours, and then baked it on fire
and rubbed it with yellow oil, and repeated this process until the yellow color soaks into the stone.
The way to distinguish is that the color on the authentic stone is gold-yellow or oringe yellow while
the yellow on the faked stone is too fresh.
                            Changhua Stone is also called Chicken Blood Stone because of its color as the
picture below. The way to fake it was to




A sample of Changhua Stone

soak a piece of ordinary stone in



A sample of Qingtian

vermilion solution, or seal


weld it or rub red
color on it after being boiled
in apricot water.
                 Qingtian Stone has rarely
                 been faked, a variety that
                 is called “frozen stone” is
                 most precious.
2.   Features of seals in various dynasties:
(1)        Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods: private seals were 1-2 square cm; official seals were from 2-3 to 7-8 square cm. They were round, square, rectangle, oval and triangle in form.
(2)        Qin: characters and sizes were in uniform. Most seals had borders and the seal surface was divided into four parts by a cross, the characters were usually dented in. Some official seals had the character “邦”, which menas “state”. For instance, “邦司马印”—the State Minister of War.
(3)        Han, Three Kingdoms and Six dynasties periods: the character “邦” disappeared and was replaced by “国”, because the name of the first emperor of Western Han was Liu Bang (刘邦in Chinese that reads Líu Bāng) . Most seals had five characters. Bordering was abandened, strokes were broader. Of course, in Jin and Southern and Northern periods, the title of officials were different.
(4)        Tang, Song dynasties and thereafter: seals were used mostly on paper, most of them had protrading characters. “folding seal script” began to appear and being used until Qing. Scholars often wrote and carved the script and seals themselves. In Yuan Dynasty, Mongolian language appeared in seals.


A Song Dynasty Official Seal in
Folding Seal Script


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