During a visit to Sydney in 1999, I visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales and fell in love with a painting – ‘The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon’ (1890) by Sir Edward Poynter. It is a large oil on canvas painting and when I saw it, it drew me in immediately and I spent a considerable time admiring its rich details, from the architectural perspective, the decorations, to the figures’ expressions and their costumes.
I remember feeling such a sense of awe, a tug of magic by the skill of the painter, evoking an undeniable feeling of fascination with a fluttering in my heart, which I had never felt before towards a work of art.
I grew up with mostly Chinese paintings and calligraphy at home, collected by my parents – beautiful paintings of roses, fruits, dragons and roosters, and striking calligraphy works of Chinese poetry that I cannot read. I suppose I have always taken for granted the graceful beauty of art displayed at home, selected by my mother’s discerning eye.
I took a course on art appreciation in college and while it gave me some familiarity of famous art works, from the Old Masters to contemporary American artists, I realized during the time in that Sydney art gallery, that viewing actual art works (particularly originals) is a unique experience to treasure.
My own love and appreciation for art has deepened over time, whenever I view not only famous original art pieces that I had previously seen or admired from books or pictures, but also contemporary paintings and sculptures at my friend’s art galleries – Wei-Ling Gallery and Wei-Ling Contemporary – located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
I take every opportunity to view and admire art during my holidays; while I have enjoyed visits to various delightful museums and art galleries in New York, Washington DC, Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, London and Florence, Australia has its share for broadening my exposure to art. In 2010 during my first visit to Perth, I attended an exhibition of ‘Peggy Guggenheim : a Collection in Venice’ at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, where I viewed paintings by Pablo Picasso, Vasily Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock and Piet Mondrian.
Looking back on that day in Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales, do you know what else made Poynter’s painting so special to me? It was a sweet old gentleman who was working as a security guard at the gallery. He came up to me with a friendly smile and told me a story of the painting – on how King Solomon was being tested and had to correctly guess which one of the two flowers Queen Sheba had in her hand was real. I wonder: if you ever get the opportunity to see this painting in person and examine the exquisite lotus flowers in Queen Sheba’s hand, would you be able to tell? I must confess that when I figured it out, I squealed in childish delight.
I keep a postcard of this special painting tucked into a mirror in my bedroom and when I look at it, I remember not only the kindness of the security guard, but the first time I consciously fell madly in love with a painting.