This particular situation has generated a very strong Buddhist spirituality. For a millennium, from the Wei to the Yuan, pilgrims have dug shrines into the cliff to worship Buddhism. 492 man-made caves have been counted, some of them no larger than a coffin. Away from the civilization centers, quite in the middle of the vast Asia, Dunhuang offers the most extraordinary testimony of ancient Buddhist sculpture and painting.
In modern times, Zhang Daqian permeates his art with the best Yuan, Ming and Qing pictorial traditions. This attitude will be vilified by Western observers after the second world war. Yet it fits perfectly in the spirit of continuity that governs the Chinese art for three millennia.
In 1941, Zhang decides to spend a few months studying the paintings of Dunhuang. Overwhelmed by the quality of the art of the ancients, he stayed two years and seven months. He copied therein on paper or silk 279 frescoes, on the site despite difficult climatic conditions.
In Dunhuang, Tang paintings are wonderful. Zhang admires the variety of the psychological expression attributed to the different personalities of the Buddhist pantheon, necessary to offer to the pious travelers all the subtlety of the message.
A copy made in 1943 by Zhang of a Tang Avalokiteshvara is for sale by Sotheby's in New York on September 18. This hanging scroll 128 x 66 cm in ink and colors on paper is estimated $ 2.6M, lot 967.