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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 2 

Lot 2

   

Lot 2
Treasury 6, no. 1367

An inscribed moulded pale turquoise-glazed porcelain ‘bamboo’ bottle

(‘A Necessary Gentleman’)

Pale turquoise-blue and colourless glazes on porcelain; with a flat lip and recessed, flat foot surrounded by a protruding, flat footrim; carved on one main side with bamboo growing in front of a convoluted rock, with one raised seal of the artist, in seal script, Ranyin (‘Seal of Ran’), and on the other with a raised inscription in seal script, He ke yiri wu cijun (‘How can [one live] a single day without this gentleman?’), followed by the signature Danran jushi (‘The retired scholar Danran’) with one raised seal of the artist in seal script, yin (‘seal’), the foot inscribed in relief seal script, Danhu (‘Dan’s Bottle’); the exterior surfaces, except the lip and footrim, glazed turquoise-blue; the interior covered with a colourless glaze
Danran jushi, probably Hu Wenxiang, Jingdezhen, 1820–1870
Height: 7.19 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.7/1.15 cm
Stopper: mother-of-pearl; coral collar

Lot 2 Provenance:
Michael Hughes, New York, 2001
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. 2002

Published:
Treasury 6, no. 1367

Lot 2 Commentary
This masterly, literate bottle comes close in feeling to Sale 1, lot 130, raising an intriguing possibility. Perhaps Hu Wenxiang worked under other names, matching his literati style and elegant quality with the use of a variety of assumed, artistic names that would be typical of a literatus – Danran jushi being one example. No one else is known to have adopted the name Danran jushi, so Hu Wenxiang is a valid candidate. The identification is bolstered by the similarities between this bottle and Sale 1, lot 130. Both feature the rare use of the token seal, yin, which simply means ‘seal’; this is a common touch in the later Qing, particularly in the Zhou Leyuan school of inside painters at Beijing, but it is not commonly found on bottles of the first half of the nineteenth century. Other than these two, no known carved-porcelain bottles bear this seal. Both bottles are inscribed with esoteric and difficult seal script, not just for the signature, but for relatively long inscriptions, where the script is unusually impressive, particularly given the medium. Finally, both are decorated with bamboo and, crucially, the style is both distinctive and remarkably similar on both bottles.

There is another bottle signed Danran jushi in JICSBS, Spring 2009, p. 31, fig. 9; it is from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.
We cannot automatically presume that Danran jushi and Hu Wenxiang are the same person. An alternative explanation for the use of the name is that the carver was responding to a commission from a scholar with this sobriquet. Nowhere in the seals or inscriptions on this bottle is there any verb indicating that Danran made the bottle or wrote the inscriptions. It is possible that Danran was the patron, a literatus and lover of bamboo, who chose the subject and inscriptions and commissioned Hu to make the bottle for him. Perhaps he was also the calligrapher who provided the exemplar for the potter to follow in writing the inscription, which is a well-known remark made by Wang Huizhi (d. 388 CE). Wang was very fond of bamboo. Once, when he stayed for a short while in an empty house, he immediately sent for servants to plant bamboo in the garden, saying, “How can one live a single day without [the company of] this gentleman?” From then on, the bamboo acquired ‘cijun’ (‘this gentleman’) as one of its alternative names.

The bamboo is a symbol of a cultivated gentleman because of various good moral qualities it portrays. As examples, its slender and straight stems impart a sense of uprightness; the hollow stems represent a humble person’s receptive mind; and its ability to bend instead of being broken in inclement weather is akin to the fortitude of a scholar in adversity. The word jie, which designates the nodes of the bamboo stems, has among its various other meanings ‘integrity’ and ‘will’.

 

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