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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 99 

Lot 99


Lot 99
Treasury 5, no.1058 (‘The Honourable Governor’)

An inscribed streaky white glass 'landscape' snuff bottle

Streaky white glass sandwiched between two layers of translucent smoky grey glass, sparsely suffused with air bubbles of various sizes, several elongated; with a flat lip and flat foot; engraved on one main side with a seated scholar being punted by a standing figure in an open boat beneath overhanging cliffs with reeds growing at their base, inscribed in draft script, ‘[Executed by] Jingyi jushi in the twelfth month of the year xinyou’, followed by two seals of the artist, Wu and yin (‘seal’), the other main side with most of the second half of an essay by the Tang prose master Liu Zongyuan in clerical script, followed by the signature Wu Xijiu and one seal of the artist, yin (‘seal’)
Bottle: 1780-1850
Decoration: Wu Mengling, probably 1921
Height: 4.8 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.48/1.54 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar; jadeite finial

Kaynes-Klitz Collection
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 16 November 1989, lot 62

Treasury 5, no.1058

Wu Mengling (also known as Wu Xijiu), a native of the Tianjin area, was a well-known painter in Beijing during his prime, apparently in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He excelled at painting insects and plants from life, but he also painted women, imitating Yuan dynasty painters.

On first encountering this bottle we assumed it to be an unusual one about which we would learn little from the records, hence our surprise at finding no less than twenty-three further examples bearing one or other of Wu’s names, and another half-dozen potential candidates upon which the illustrations are too indistinct to read. According to inscriptions on several of his works, Wu worked in Beijing (to which he refers as Yanjing, employing the ancient name for the capital), and some of his later works suggest the influence of certain inside-painting artists who flourished there at the turn of the century.

The inscription here is from A Record of a Thatched Pavilion Built by Vice Censor-in-Chief Liu of Yingzhou, written in 811 by the Tang-dynasty prose master Liu Zongyuan (773 – 819) at the request of Liu Kuan, who was then a prefect in Yingzhou, in modern-day Guangxi. It follows a physical description of the pavilion Liu Kuan had built. Some of the language and style is purposely archaic, as faintly reflected in our translation.

In the year xinmao [811], my cousin [Liu Kuan] was posted in this region as prefect. His moral influence reached everywhere, and therefore the people were honest; the people were honest, and therefore they lived in harmony; the people lived in harmony, and therefore he had much leisure in administrative affairs. And so it was that in his leisure time he used to roam in this mountain in order to enjoy the beautiful scenery. He daubed the roof with mud, and lo, he made that shelter for relaxation, and the construction was completed before the morning was old. Whenever the wind had died down and the rain had ceased, and rosy clouds emerged bright and clear, he would tie a simple kerchief around his head, put on a deerskin coat, and climb to the top of the hill in the company of his brothers, friends, and pupils, ‘five or six young men who had reached the age of capping’ [to quote Confucius]. He would run his fingers over the silk strings of the paulownia wood [the qin] and see off with his eyes the clouds as they went on their way. And [in the words of the fourth-century aesthete Wang Huizhi], the ‘refreshing air’ of the ‘western mountain’ is in my lapel and sleeves to reach….

Here the account breaks off in the middle of a sentence and several lines short of the conclusion of the piece.

The bottle seems to be old, of a type produced for a long period during the Qing dynasty, and displays thoroughly convincing surface patination. Most of Wu’s bottles, including several in imperial yellow, seem to have been made for him, which must suggest that by the late-Qing period any remaining imperial protocol related to this colour was widely ignored. Technically, this is one of Wu’s masterpieces, with a typical literati painting scene engraved with greater confidence and artistry than is the case with a number of his other works. The clerical script is also proficient, although not as impressive as Zhou Honglai’s or, indeed, Ding Erzhong’s.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1098&exhibition=9&ee_lang=eng


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Hugh Moss |