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CHINA'S FOREMOST MASTER JADE-CARVING (1917 - 1989)
1917 Born to a poor peasant in the southwestern suburbs of Beijing. The father worked as a jade carver in Beijing. At the age of five, Wang started to make little figurines of monkeys, dolls and chickens out of clay and wax as his family could not afford to buy him any toys.
1925 At the age of nine, Wang's mother had to send him to the jade carving workshop in Beijing as they could not pay for his schooling. Young Wang learnt to draw by himself as a past-time and was later given some drawing lessons. One year later, he was able to correct his father's sketches.
1930 Wang was apprenticed to his father at the jade carving workshop at the age of thirteen. By the age of fifteen, Wang's father stopped working and Wang became the sole breadwinner of the family. He produced snuff bottles, pendants, figurines of animals and small pieces of jewellery. Two years later, Wang was already well-known in the trade. He worked for Te-i-chai, a Beijing jewellery shop which also sold porcelain, wood and stone carvings and there, Wang learnt all about the different raw materials and stones.
1937 At the age of twenty, Wang became one of China's four top jade workers of the time.
1952 Wang became an auditor at the Central Institute of Fine Arts where Xu Bei Hong, a famous painter, was president. There Wang received his formal art education and learnt about various different techniques such as clay sculpturing, painting from models and the techniques of proportional reduction and enlargement.
1953 Wang joined a production cooperative of jade carvers and one year later, he joined the Beijing branch of China National Arts and Crafts Import and Export Corporation as a purchasing agent for jade material.
1955 Wang was named a Veteran Jade Carving Master, the highest honour of the time for handicraft workers.
1959 Wang continued to be a research fellow at the Peking Research Institute of Arts and Crafts.
1979 Wang was once again honoured as a handicraft artist. In the same year, Wang started work on the jadeite plaque "Wishes of longevity from a group of Immortals" or "Qun xian zhu shou".
1982 The State Council ordered the Ministry of Light Industry to create works of art from the "Myriad stone" which was a huge boulder of jadeite. The Ministry invited Wang and another master craftsman Yang Shih Hui to form a committee to work on the assignment.
1985 The "Myriad stone" was sliced into four pieces weighing a total of 803.7 kilograms. Forty carvers from the Beijing Jadeware Factory started work on the stone, a team that included five of the master carvers of the factory.
1986 On May 27, Wang was one of six people honoured with the title of Special Grade Arts and Crafts Master by the Peking Arts and Crafts Corporation.
1989 Before the four carvings were terminated, Wang died of heart disease at the age of seventy-two.
1990 The four carvings - the Mountain Tai, a hanging flower basket, an incense burner and a set of four jade screens - took four and a half years to finish and were declared National Treasures. They are now on display at the Chinese Arts and Crafts Museum in Beijing.
Perfection is rare, and rarely will one find perfection as seen in this exceptional jadeite plaque which epitomizes the best in craftsmanship, jadeite material and subject matter.
In 1979, when Wang Shu Sen was presented with the jadeite rough for this plaque, he was at once fascinated by the rare qualities of the raw material and highly dismayed by the many tiny black spots in the stone. Being a perfectionist, Wang used presbyopic glasses of 400 degrees magnification and took more than a month to pick out all the spots.
Inspired by the exquisiteness of the stone, he embarked on an extremely ambitious subject matter - "wishes of longevity from a group of immortals" or "qun xian zhu shou". This well-known Chinese legend is often found in paintings and larger scale carvings due to its auspicious meaning, but in view of the complexity of its iconography, it is exceptional to find this subject depicted on a small scale, as in this jadeite plaque measuring merely 74.19 x 33.75 x 8.18 mm.
Wang was reputed for his excellent skills and in particular, his continuous search for uniqueness, ingenuity and vividness in his carvings. Viewed under a magnifying glass, the double sides of the plaque reveal a microcosm inhabited by the Eight Immortals and other deities, against a background of sea, mountains, clouds and mythical animals, as one would expect to see in a traditional Chinese painting of the subject. However, unlike painting, the art of jade carving does not allow for any errors.
Legendary Taoist figures, the Eight Immortals personify opposing stages in life and society, such as old age and youth, yin and yan, poverty and wealth, nobility and proletariat and are revered as a symbol of eternal life. Vividly portrayed in the jadeite plaque, each deity is depicted with different expressions and gestures, each readily identifiable by their attributes or mounts.
On one side of the plaque, one finds amongst clouds and waves ten deities as follows:
- Shou Xing, the God of Longevity and Lao Zhi, a highly revered Taoist deity extend their wishes of longevity
- Ma Gu, the Goddess of Longevity holds in her hand a peach, symbol of longevity, stands next to Li Ba Bai, a Taoist immortal
- Han Shan and Shi De, deities of unity and harmony, cavort around the Mountain of Longevity
- Lü Dong Bin, one of the Eight Immortals, is depicted with his sword, seated in a boat while Hong Hai Er, a mischievous boy deity is rowing with a branch of weeping willow
- Also deities of the Eight Immortals, Zhang Guo Lao is seated on his mount the buffalo while Han Xiang Zi is depicted with his flute
- Wang's signature on the left bottom corner of the plaque
One the other side of the plaque, another nine deities are portrayed as follows:
- He Zhi Zhang, one of the "Drunken Immortals" holds a scroll in his hands
- Two deites of the Eight Immortals, He Xian Gu is shown with her attribute of a lotus flower while Lan Cai He is depicted with his basket of flowers
- Liu Hai, a Taoist deity is represented with his three-legged toad
- Also of the Eight Immortals, Han Zhong Li cruises on his magical fan on the Sea of Blessings, Tie Guai Li is depicted with his iron staff and Cao Guo Jiu is identifiable by his court attire
- Other deities include the Goddess of Mercy otherwise known as Guan Yin and Dong Fang Shu, yet another Taoist deity is seated upon his mount, a mythical animal
Wang's carvings are seldom up for sale as they have stayed mainly in the hands of private collectors and institutions in China, and this is the first work ever by Wang to be sold in an international auction