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Avalokiteśvara

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Period: Dated 1944
Medium: Color and ink on paper
Format: Hanging scroll

Artist(s): Fu Baoshi (1904–1965)

Dimensions: Length: 110.1 cm; width: 34.5 cm

The artist’s inscription notes the date as the tenth of the seventh month of the jiashen year (1944) and the location as the south room in his Sunset Studio (Xiashan zhai) at Jin’gang in Chongqing. The five seals accompanying the inscription as additional signatures are a square seal with “Seal of Baoshi” (Baoshi zhi yin) in intaglio, which shows the characters outlined with vermillion ink; a square seal with “Fu” (the artist’s surname) in relief, which shows the characters in vermillion ink; a rectangular seal with “Seal Infatuation” (Yinchi) in relief; “Newly Established Destiny” (Qiming weixin); and a square seal with “Studio of Embracing Stone” (Baoshi zhai) in relief.

Avalokiteśvara (Chinese Guanyin or Guanshiyin) is known as a bodhisattva in Buddhism and often shown to the left of Amitābha in the depictions of the Three Saints of the West. Considered the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokiteśvara is called upon by living beings seeking deliverance from suffering. During the reign of the Tang-dynasty emperor known as Taizong (r. 626–649), the characters of the emperor’s given name Shimin became taboo—a typical custom during the reigns of Chinese emperors. As a result, even the shi (lit. “world”) in the name of the bodhisattva Guanshiyin was removed and shortened to Guanyin. Avalokiteśvara was originally a male-bodied figure. After Buddhism was brought to China, the traditions surrounding Avalokiteśvara evolved. Since the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420–589), the figure has been portrayed as a female-bodied figure.

Often called the “Goddess of Mercy,” the Bodhisattva in Fu’s work holds a twig of willow in a small vase (Sanskrit kalasa, Chinese jingping, lit. “pure vase”). Dignified and showing a look of compassion, she seems to be gazing upon the suffering of living beings with a desire to save them from their afflictions. Fu Baoshi rarely painted Buddhist themes. This depiction of the Bodhisattva seems to express his longing for a victorious end to the war of resistance against the Japanese and for his compatriots to be saved from the ravages of the conflict.

The Palace Museum received this work as a donation from Fu Baoshi’s wife Luo Shihui.

Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying

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