Monday, 6 December 2010

The curious tale of the abandoned shrine painting

I have recently acquired a most unusual Chinese painting. My friend and I had noticed it a year ago in the old district where we used to live. It stood on the top of a display cabinet in a local mirror and framing shop which also sells fung shui knick-knacks. It was always there. I assumed it belonged to the shop, since it was different from everything else. It was interesting because it looked hand painted and depicted three different Chinese deities.

Walking past the shop after dinner one evening we decided to enquire. It was indeed hand painted - a traditional glass painting in fact - and also for sale, but the various family members in the shop were unable to tell us the price, claiming that they needed to consult then shop's patriarch, who was at that very moment taking a bath.

We returned at a more civilized hour the following week and were given a (somewhat reluctant) quote. However, they only accepted a deposit and told us to return in ten days. It seemed that this painting had been commissioned two years ago, paid for, yet never collected by its original buyer. The shop owners felt it was their duty to attempt to re-contact this former customer first.

The picture is by the entrance, on the left, on the top shelf

At this point, although we wanted the painting, it seemed as if fate, (or 天,)  would decide whether it would be ours or not. Passing the shop a few days later, we noticed that the painting was still sitting on the top shelf, but now covered with wrapping. Was the mysterious customer due to collect?

After ten days, my friend returned to the shop. It transpired that the family had been unable to contact either the customer, or even the local painter (in case the customer reappeared and demanded his painting, they might have been able to comission another one). Both appeared to have vanished without a trace. The painting was ours.

At that point, the shop owner told us that this painting is very unusual, and probably unique, because of the very three deities which had attracted our eye in the first place. They are the bodhisattva Guan Yin, the Chinese hero Guan Yu (the general Kwan which I wrote about earlier) and Bao Gong, another Chinese historical-mythological character promoted to god status, who essentially represents justice. Shrine paintings may feature a single deity, or multiples of three (though anything above six is uncommon, since the different deities may clash). The gentleman told us that although the three gods depicted in this painting get on just fine, it is very rare to see Mr. Bao and Mr. Kwan together.

Back at the flat with the painting, we were faced with a further conundrum: where it should go. Online literature on the subject seemed to rule out every possible location: (if you put it opposite the stairs, you may have an accident; if you put it near the TV, the god may be frightened; for this reason also, take care to polish the frame but never the face) This, added to the fact that the flat is minuscule, left very few suitable options. Right now it's sitting at an angle on the desk (the TV is there but never on!) where it's not really facing anything. I hope it's not draining away my qi or something.

Take a look at the bright, naive art. Bold colours, liberal gold and silver paint, and a ladleful of symbolism painted on the back of a glass pane. Stunning.

Guan Yin

Bao Gong and Guan Yu

1 comment:

  1. Coincidence, j'ai entendu parler du Juge Bao le mois dernier en France!!

    Le tableau est vraiment original.