top of page
  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Transcendent Beings - East Asian Deities at the Kimbell Art Museum

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

This is my first post for 2023 and I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas break and Happy New Year! During the holidays I was in the USA to complete a few of projects before the year-end. One of these jobs took me to Dallas for an insurance appraisal.

This was my first time in Texas and the trip started smoothly enough with the appraisal being completed within schedule. Later that evening I was also able to try some famous Texas BBQ at Terry Black's - the ribs and brisket were simply amazing!

However my flight to New York (where I was based for 2 weeks) was delayed because of a snowstorm in the north-west coast, so I ended up staying an extra night in Dallas.

This wasn't the worst of situations since I spent the next day visiting museums with Asian art collections including the Crow Collection of Asian Art and the Dallas Museum of Art. You can check out some of the photos I took of these institutions on my Instagram page @anthonywuart.

The highlight by far was taking a taxi to Fort Worth to check out the Kimbell Art Museum. This institution has always been on my bucket list, and if I didn't visit this trip, I'd have no idea when the next opportunity would be.

The Kimbell is well-known for their European art from the Renaissance to the early 20th Century. But they do have a world-famous collection of Asian art, with an emphasis on East Asian religious sculpture and painting. Included are Buddhist art objects from China, the Himalayan region (Tibet and Nepal in particular), Southeast Asia, India and Japan.

Image 1a. One of the must-see East Asian sculptures at the Kimbell is this magnificent Chinese gilt bronze figure of the Buddhist bodhisattva Manjushri seated on a lion.

The figure is dated to the Southern Song (1127-1279) to Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and is one of the rarest Buddhist sculptures I have ever encountered. The figure is large and well-casted with very precise details in the attire, crown and jewelry. One of the more interesting details is the unique lotus pads underneath the feet of the lion.

Manjushri is the bodhisattva of wisdom. Like the Buddha, bodhisattvas are enlightened beings, but chose to stay in the earthly realm to preach the Buddhist doctrine.

Image 1b. Here is a detail of Manjushri's upper body. You can see all the fine details in the robes and jewelry. The right hand is in the mudra (gesture) of 'no fear', while the left is in meditation.

Image 1c. A side view of the Buddhist lion including the carefully rendered scrolling details of the saddle and the very unusual lotus supporting its feet.

Image 2. Another object I liked is a very graceful Chinese limestone torso of a bodhisattva from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It probably depicts Guanyin (aka Avalokiteshvara), who is the Buddhist deity of compassion.

There are really fine details on the jewelry and draped clothes, and the contrapposto (counter-balanced) form is influenced by Greek Hellenistic sculptures that was transmitted to China through trade along the ancient Silk Road.

Image 3a. Here is a complex Tibetan Buddhist mandala (actually five smaller mandalas forming one large mandala!) and it is one of the best example I have seen in a while! This mandala is painted on cloth and was made in Central Tibet during the mid-15th Century.

Despite being a two-dimensional image, mandalas (meaning circle) are a microcosm of the universe and is supposed to showcase the infinite cosmos through time and space.

For the viewer, you would use Buddhist mandalas as a teaching tool to help you learn about a concept, a story, or specific Buddhist deities. (You can read an introduction about mandalas in a blog I put together for Bidsquare a couple of years ago).

Image 3b. The central deity of this mandala is Ushnishavijaya, the white goddess of long life. You can see glimpses of other Buddhas, deities and realms around this figure.

Image 4. This graceful standing Nepalese gilt bronze figure of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni also caught my eye at the Kimbell. The sculpture is dated to 400-750 AD, which is extremely early for bronze images of the Buddha.

Images of the Buddha didn't really appear until the 2nd and 3rd Century AD, and they were mostly from the Gandharan region of modern day Pakistan. Bronze standing examples seldom exist anymore due to the re-use of the precious and practical material.

This figure still features some Indian influence, especially those of the Gupta period (4th-6th Century AD).

Image 5. Another rare bronze Buddhist figure is this outstanding Thai image of the bodhisattva Maitreya. This figure was made in the 8th Century and was heavily influenced by earlier examples imported from India and Sri Lanka.

Maitreya is the 'Buddha of the Future' which is recognized by the small stupa (reliquary mound) located at the base of his coiffure. This figure is important because of its large size, presence of four arms and early casting.

Image 6. Shown here is a beautiful 14th Century figure of the Hindu deity Parvati. She is cast in bronze and from the Vijayanagar Period (1336-1565) of India. Parvati is the female consort to Vishnu, and has the role of a motherly and fertility goddess. I liked this figure because of the graceful lines and sharp casting.

Image 7. This is a stunning grey schist figure of the Buddhist bodhisattva Khasarpana Lokeshvara. It is dated to the Indian Pala Period of circa 11th-12th Century.

This figure is an esoteric form of Avalokiteshvara. Pala figures are exceptional graceful as in this figure that is seated in the postitc of royal ease This reminds me of a larger Pala figure of the same deity that sold at Christie's New York in 2017 for a record breaking USD 24.6 million (approximately CAD 32 million).

Image 8. And here are some Japanese sculptures from the Kimbell Museum. In the above image is extremely serene 11th Century figure of a Buddhist monk carved from wood. However, this monk is actually Hachiman, the Japanese Shinto god of war.

As described by the curation team, Hachiman has given up death and the battlefield to become a recluse, something that other warriors can aspire to. In addition to leading a peaceful existence, the deity has also taken up Buddhism (which is very usual for a Shinto god). This sculpture has a very calming feel about him.

Imagine 9. And here is one of my favourite Buddhist sculptures at the Kimbell. This is a Japanese seated wood figure of a multi-armed Nyoirin Kannon, the Japanese form of Avalokiteshvara (the Buddhist deity of compassion).

What I love about this sculpture is the serene and elegant nature of the deity. He has four arms and is seated so naturally while having the pensive face, with closed eyes, leaning gently against a hand. This figure is from the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), a period particularly renowned for their Buddhist sculptures.

Image 10. And lastly is this painting by Japanese Buddhist artist Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800). It depicts two gibbons reaching towards the moon's reflection in a lake (not seen in the image).

The idea is very Buddhist in nature, in that primates (like 'simple-minded' people) are unable to differentiate illusions and reality i.e. they don't know the real moon versus its reflection. I particularly liked this painting because of the endearing gibbons and how stylized they appear.

Anyways, I highly recommend visiting the Kimbell Art Museum if you have a chance. Fort Worth is technically just a 30 mile drive from Dallas - and this can be done in about 45 minutes. However with some rush hour traffic, it took me an hour getting there and another 1.5 hours getting back to the hotel! It was definitely worth the trip though.

Thank you for reading my blogs once again, and looking forward to a very good 2023!


bottom of page