James Francis Cahill (; August 13, 1926 – February 14, 2014) was an art historian, curator, collector, and professor at the
University of California, Berkeley The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley, Berkeley, Cal, or California) is a public In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individual people, and the public (a.k.a. the general public) is the to ...
. He was considered one of the world's top authorities on Chinese art.

Early life and education

James Cahill was born on August 13, 1926 in Fort Bragg, California. His parents were divorced when he was two, and he lived with a number of relatives and friends. He became interested in literature and music at Berkeley High School. In 1943 Cahill entered the University of California, Berkeley, initially to study English, but decided to study Japanese instead because of World War II. He was later drafted into the
US Army The United States Army (USA) is the land service branch of the United States Armed Forces The United States Armed Forces are the Military, military forces of the United States of America. It consists of the United States Army, Army, Uni ...
, and served as a translator in Japan and Korea from 1946 to 1948. In Asia he became interested in collecting paintings. In 1948 he returned to UC Berkeley and received a bachelor's degree in Oriental languages in 1950. He then studied art history under at the
University of Michigan The University of Michigan (UM, U-M, U of M, UMich, or Michigan) is a public university, public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Founded in 1817 in Detroit, as the ''Catholepistemiad'', or the ''University of Michigania'', 20 years b ...
, earning his master's in 1952 and Ph.D. in 1958. In 1954 and 1955 Cahill studied at
Kyoto University , mottoeng = Freedom of academic culture , established = Founded June 18, 1897 , type = National university, Public (National) , endowment = ¥ 250.2 billion (2.2 1000000000 (number), billion USD) , faculty = 2,864 (Teaching Staff) , ...

Kyoto University
in Japan as a
Fulbright Scholar The Fulbright Program, including the Fulbright–Hays Program, is one of several United States Cultural Exchange Programs with the goal to improve intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural competence between the people of ...


Cahill worked at the
Freer Gallery of Art The Freer Gallery of Art is an art museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. focusing on Culture of Asia, Asian art. The Freer and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery together form the Smithsonian's national museums of Asian art in the Un ...
in Washington, D.C. as curator of Chinese art from 1958 to 1965, when he became a faculty member at UC Berkeley. He taught at Berkeley for 30 years, from 1965 until his retirement in 1995, after which he became professor emeritus. From the late 1950s to the 1970s, when Western society had far less interest in Chinese art than today, Cahill was among a group of art historians who researched and cataloged Chinese paintings. In 1960 he published ''Chinese Painting'', which became a classic text that was required reading in Chinese art history classes for decades. In 1973, he was one of the first American art historians to visit China after President
Richard Nixon Richard Milhous Nixon (January 9, 1913April 22, 1994) was the 37th president of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. A member of the Republican Party, Nixon previously served as the 36th vice president from 1953 to 1961, having ...

Richard Nixon
's historic meeting with Chairman
Mao Zedong Mao Zedong (; pronounced , (formerly Romanization of Chinese, romanized as Mao Tse-tung), December 26, 1893September 9, 1976), also known as Chairman Mao, was a Chinese Communism, communist revolutionary who was the List of national founder ...

Mao Zedong
the year before. At a Chinese art symposium in the 1960s, Cahill proposed the theory that notable
Ming dynasty#REDIRECT Ming dynasty {{Redirect category shell, 1= {{R from move {{R from other capitalisation ...
Chinese painters were influenced by Western art. His theory was denounced by Chinese academics at the time, but has been widely accepted by experts since then. In the 1990s, financier Oscar Tang purchased ''The Riverbank'', a famous painting attributed to the 10th-century Chinese
Southern Tang Southern Tang () was a state in Southern China that existed during Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, which proclaimed itself to be the successor of the former Tang Dynasty. The capital was located at Nanjing Nanjing ( ), Postal Map R ...
dynasty master Dong Yuan, and donated it to the
Metropolitan Museum of Art The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, colloquially "the Met", is the largest art museum in the United States. Its permanent collection contains over 2 million works, divided among 17 curatorial departments. The main building at 1000 F ...

Metropolitan Museum of Art
of New York City. In 1999, Cahill set off an explosive debate when he announced that the painting was a fake by the 20th-century master painter and forger
Zhang Daqian Chang Dai-chien or Zhang Daqian (; 10 May 1899 – 2 April 1983) was one of the best-known and most prodigious Chinese artists of the twentieth century. Originally known as a '' guohua'' (traditionalist) painter, by the 1960s he was also renowned ...
. In addition to his observations on the painting's style, which he argued could not be that of a Song dynasty painting, he cited the brushwork and seals. The museum insists the painting is authentic, and the work remains on display at the Met. The dispute remains unresolved. James Cahill published hundreds of articles on Chinese and Japanese art, as well as more than a dozen books.James Cahill Bibliography
/ref> He built a significant collection of Chinese and Japanese art, and gave much of it to the Berkeley Art Museum. In 1993 he delivered the Edwin O. Reischauer Lectures at Harvard. In 2010 he was awarded the Charles Lang Freer Medal by the Smithsonian Institution for his lifetime contributions to art history.

Personal life

Cahill was married and divorced twice. He had two children from his first marriage, pianist Sarah Cahill (pianist), Sarah Cahill and Nicholas, and two more children from his second marriage, Benedict and Julian. He also had six grandchildren. He died of prostate cancer on February 14, 2014, at the age of 87.


References and further reading

* . Includes biographical remarks on Cahill and a bibliography of his works.

External links

James Cahill
Website containing Cahill's blog, video lectures, papers, articles, biographical material, and tributes to him.
James Cahill's digital library
at the China Academy of Art , including the list of the personal book collection he donated to the Academy. {{DEFAULTSORT:Cahill, James 1926 births 2014 deaths American art historians American art collectors University of California, Berkeley alumni University of California, Berkeley College of Letters and Science faculty University of Michigan alumni Educators from California Kyoto University alumni Fulbright Scholars Deaths from prostate cancer Chinese art collectors People from Fort Bragg, California Historians of East Asian art Deaths from cancer in California United States Army personnel of World War II United States Army soldiers