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The Three Stars of Happiness, Wealth, and Longevity, c. 1500

Wang Zhao, Chinese

This bold and lively painting by the eccentric artist Wang Zhao depicts a trio of Taoist deities who are charged with caring for the well being of individuals. In popular legend each deity is derived from a historical person, and although grouped as a trio here, each is worshiped separately. The vigorous brushwork, notable in the strong outlines of the figures and in the trunk of the tree, is typical of the expressionistic style favored by Chan (Zen) priest-painters, which was particularly suited to Taoist divinities and themes.

The Star of Happiness (Fuxing) is generally associated with a sixth-century civil official who persuaded his emperor to release the dwarfs taken forcibly from his hometown to serve as entertainers at court. Fuxing is the figure at the center rear who wears the robes of a civil bureaucrat. The Star of Wealth (Luxing), pictured on the left, is personified by Shi Fen, a Chinese peasant who became a general and allied himself with the founder of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220). As a reward for his conquests he received both honors and great wealth. The Star of Longevity (Shouxing) is a deity who fixes the time of death for each individual. His presence as a star was a sign of peace; his disappearance, a sign of war. Shouxing stands on the right and holds the peach of immortality in his hands.



(Howard Rogers, Kamakura);

purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1985.