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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 9 

Lot 9

 
   

Lot 9
Treasury 4, no.522 (‘The Knight-Errant Curly Whiskers’)
HK$93,750

An inside-painted rock-crystal 'Tao Yuanming' snuff bottle

Crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a flat lip and flat foot; painted on one main side with a Confucian, a Daoist, and a Buddhist seated around a rock table, taking tea beneath a pine tree, the other main side with Li Jing and Hongfu nü bidding Curly Whiskers farewell after they have become sworn friends; inscribed in draft script ‘Executed by Ye Zhongsan at the capital in the fourth month of the year gengzi’, with one seal of the artist, yin (‘seal’), in negative seal script
Ye Zhongsan, the Apricot Grove Studio, Chongwen district, Beijing, fourth month, 1900
Height: 5.79 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.47 cm
Stopper: pearl; turquoise collar

Provenance:
Christies, London, 5 April 1971, lot 93
Hugh Moss (1987)

Published:
JICSBS, Autumn 1982, p. 27, figs. 63 and 63a
Kleiner 1995, no. 406
Treasury 4, no.522

Exhibited:
British Museum, London, June–November 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997
Christie’s, London, 1999

On Curly Whiskers, see Sale 2, lot 47.

We have previously identified the three companions having tea as Tao Yuanming (on the right) and his friend Lu Xiujing (406 – 477) visiting Monk Huiyuan (334–416), who resided on Mount Lu in Jiangxi province. The trio are more often depicted in a composition entitled Huxi sanxiao (‘Three [Friends] having a good laugh at Tiger Stream’), illustrating a legend about how Huiyuan unwittingly broke his rule of not going beyond Tiger Stream when he found himself having crossed it deep in conversation with his two friends, Tao and Lu, as he saw them off after their visit. As soon as they realized what had happened, all three burst into laughter. In fact, by the time Lu Xiujing took up residence on Mount Lu at around 55, Tao would have been 96, and Huiyuan would have been 127, so this incident clearly never happened. The popularity of the legend can probably be attributed to its symbolic meaning as showing a harmonious relationship between the Three Teachings: Huiyuan represents Buddhism, of course, and Lu Jingxiu was an important Daoist teacher; seeing Tao Yuanming as a Confucian is not at all surprising if one is familiar with the many works in which he longs to communicate with the ancient Confucian sages and if one remembers that happiness in poverty is a Confucian value straight out of the Analects. Refusal to aid and abet a corrupt administration is also a Confucian stance. Syncretism or the search for common ground between Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism occupied the minds of many thinkers in China from the Song dynasty on down, so the story about these three friends was enjoyed and perpetuated for centuries, even though there were always a few scholars who tried to point out the impossibility of the meeting depicted on this bottle.

Recently, we have learned from a chapter in Ni Yibin 2008 that there is another trio representing the Three Teachings: the Song-dynasty friends Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, and Foyin. A blue-and-white brush holder in the Shanghai Museum depicts them standing around a vat of famous Tang-dynasty vinegar having a taste. Japanese versions of this theme exploit it for its comic value, but the story was mostly ignored in China. On the present snuff bottle, then, we have neither Tiger Stream nor a vat of vinegar; the three gentlemen surely have tea in that pot. But their dress and hair (or lack thereof) make it clear that they represent the Three Teachings. Is this a generalized theme, or is it a simplified version of (probably) the tiger Stream story?

For another example of this rare combination of subjects for Ye, see JICSBS, Autumn 1982, p. 30, figs. 64 and 64a.

We believe that this lovely crystal bottle was made to order for Ye and is not an earlier version left blank. A plain early crystal bottle in a form as flattened as this would be rare on its own, but common in the inside-painted works of the Beijing school.

The style is typical of Ye’s finest figure paintings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, where excellent painting is combined with reasonably subdued colours, from 1905 onwards the colouring tended to become even more brilliant, with greater contrasts. There is something distinctive and extremely pleasing about these more pastel tones used on his figure paintings between about 1896 and 1905. This is one of Ye’s masterpieces of the genre, with unusual subject matter and delightful painting and colouring set in a lovely crystal bottle.

 

Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1097&exhibition=9&ee_lang=eng


  
  

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Hugh Moss |