Rare et importante sculpture de Guanyin en bois, Chine du nord, circa XIIIème siècle. Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2012

Elle est représentée assise en lalitasana. Sa main gauche repose élégamment sur son genou. Sa main droite tenait probablement à l'origine le lotus. Elle est vêtue d'un dhoti plissé, une écharpe nouée sur sa poitrine. Ses épaules sont recouvertes d'un manteau souple dont l'une des manches flotte gracieusement autour du bras. Elle est parée d'un collier ouvragé. Son visage méditatif est ceint d'une tiare. Ses cheveux sont coiffés en un haut chignon, deux tresses retombant de part et d'autre ; restaurations, traces de polychromie et de dorure. Hauteur: 175 cm. (69 in.), socle en bois des années 1930-40. Estimation: €200,000 - €300,000

Provenance: Private collection, Paris, acquired at Etienne Ader and MM. André and Guy Portier, Drouot, 10 march 1947, lot 99

Literature: Agence Quotidienne d'Informations Economiques et Financières, Journal d'Annonces Judiciaires et Légales, Edition de Paris, samedi 5 au mardi 8 avril 1947, no. 518.

Notes: The dating is consistent with the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen Carbon 14 test no. GrA-54286.

This superb and exceedingly large wood figure of the bodhisattva of Compassion is sculpted in the round; its surface smoothened with remains of gesso and coated papier-mâché still visible, finally painted and gilded, with traces still adhering to it. He is seated majestically in lalitasana, and most likely was once placed on a rocky base.

The iconography is based on the Gandavyuha chapter of the Buddhist Avatamasakasutra where Avalokiteshvara or Guanyin resided on Mount Potalaka where the young pilgrim Sudhana visited him. He found Guanyin seated on the rocky shores of the grotto 'Sound of the Waves' contemplating the reflection of the moon in the water. In due course this specific form of Guanyin became better known as water-moon Guanyin.

Representations of Guanyin went through a series of stylistic changes throughout the different stages of Chinese art. It started with the thin and elongated version during the various fractions of the Six Dynasties (265-589); it slowly indianized with clinging drapery and billowing scarves. During the Tang period the figure gradually became more and more robust, powerful and majestic in posture and resplendent in jewellery. This form was more or less accepted as the standard one during the Song dynasty. During the subsequent dynasties of the Yuan and early Ming, wooden examples of this sacred image became even more robust demonstrating an authoritative appearance, like the presented one.

By the Song dynasty, the God of Compassion had become the most popular of all Buddhist subjects. Especially during the Song and Yuan dynasties, examples in wood were common, as the medium was cheaper and easier to handle than for instance bronze or iron. However wood as material is rather fugitive and as consequence just a limited number of these religious images have come down to us. Clearly, the fact that such a large wooden figure has survived the ravages of men and time is very rare. Just a few comparable large seated Guanyin figures are known and scattered over museums around the world. Based on these examples, most likely the presented Guanyin featured a chapel of an important Yuan temple in northern China.

A comparable sized and seated Guanyin, just slightly earlier in date, is presently in the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford and published in Arts of Asia, Hong Kong, May-June 2011 issue, p.107.

Christie's. Art d'Asie. 19 December 2012. Paris