ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)
ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)

Guanyin in Early Tang Style

ZHANG DAQIAN (1899-1983)
Guanyin in Early Tang Style
Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper
196.8 x 68.6 cm. (77 ½ x 27 in.)
Entitled, inscribed, and signed, with two seals of the artist
Dated third month, wuzi year (1948)
Dedicated to Qinzhai
The recipient of this painting, Jian Jinglun, was a native of Guangdong. Born in the fourteenth year of the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1888), he was a scholar, a skilled painter, and calligrapher. With a passionate interest in oracle bone script, he collated many old texts and transformed them into poetry. Known for his vast collection of seals and oracle bone poetry, he spent the late years of his life writing calligraphy and painting.
Further details
If a traveler were to follow the northern route venturing from India to China, his journey would take him through Kucha, Karashar, and Turfan or through Khotan, both of which converge at Dunhuang on the Chinese northwest frontier. Because of its focal location, Dunhuang provided havens for travel-weary monks. Caves that were dug out of the nearby hills became gatherings for monks to hold religious discussions and religious art created there withstood the test of time due to the weather conditions. By the Tang dynasty, Buddhism was widespread in China and developed to unprecedented heights under the friendly patronage of certain Tang rulers. One interesting development is that Buddhism under the Tang dynasty assumed a more Chinese character, reflected in the murals at Dunhuang.
Zhang Daqian embarked on an expedition to Dunhaung in 1941 to study the magnificent Buddhist murals. The expedition proved to be a creative breakthrough for Zhang–when he returned in 1943, he developed a new style and reached the zenith of his mastery for figure paintings. Learning from the ancient murals in Dunhuang, Zhang paid special attention to the use of brush, colour, costume, and the rendering of the human body. By finessing his skills, his technique in figure paintings improved greatly.
Taiwanese writer Xie Jiaxiao wrote, “In the world of Zhang Daqian, the Dunhuang period is his most glorious, just as the Dunhuang period is the most glorious in the history of art. Dunhuang played an immensely important part in Zhang’s artistic development, and laid down the foundations for his future creations.”
Guanyin is translated as “the lord who looks down”, and one who hears the sounds (prayers) of the world. Sutras bearing information on Guanyin had already been translated into Chinese from the time of the third century, and after the fifth century the deity had become fairly well-known. Throughout the Tang and early Song dynasty, it appears that Guanyin was still looked upon as a male figure, for in representations the Guanyin is frequently portrayed with a moustache. It was only after the introduction in a tantric sutra in the eighth century that the concept of a female Guanyin began to be painted in white.
Executed in 1948, Guanyin in Early Tang Style is an excellent example where meticulous fine-line brushwork, rhythmic double lines and opulent colours are emphasized. Zhang developed sensitivity to certain details like hands, hairstyles, facial features, and clothes. The figure’s beautifully elongated hands and fingers draw the viewer towards the lotus, and while historical accuracy was important for the artist, Zhang worked from memory and perhaps incorporated different elements of early Tang works in this exquisite rendering of a portrait of the Bodhisattva.

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