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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 97 

Lot 97


Lot 97
Treasury 4, no.588 (‘The Departure of Curly Whiskers’)

An inside-painted rock-crystal 'Three Knights-Errant' snuff bottle

Flawless crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with Curly Whiskers leading his donkey away from a fenced household, from the window of which watch Li Jing and the courtesan Hongfu nü, a large mature pine tree in the foreground partly framing the scene, with blossoming trees beyond, inscribed in regular script with the title ‘Three Knights-Errant’, the other main side painted with Tao Yuanming admiring a jardinière with chrysanthemums growing in it while his attendant kneels, holding a jar, possibly of water, beside another jardinière with calamus, inscribed in regular script ‘Executed by Ma Shaoxuan at the capital in spring, in the third month of the year kuimao for the approval of Yiqing, an honourable elder acquaintance’, with two seals of the artist, one, Shao, in negative seal script, the other, xuan, in positive seal script
Bottle: 1780–1903
Painting: Family of Ma Shaoxuan, Beijing, third month, 1903
Height: 5.6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.5 and 1.32 cm (oval)
Stopper: Tourmaline; vinyl collar

Yee Woo Co., Hong Kong (1979)
Gerd Lester (1986)

Kleiner 1995, no. 415
Treasury 4, no.588

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

This is not one of Ma’s works that would stand up well to an imaginary separation from the bottle format and assessment as an independent painting, and the standard of calligraphy suggests that it is probably by a family member rather than by Shaoxuan himself. On the other hand, it is a spectacular decorative work and a very rare subject, for the Ma family, of the Knight-Errant, Curly Whiskers, and his colourful companions, for which see Sale 2, lot 47. The only other recorded example of the subject was from the Wolferz and Eric Young Collections (Sotheby’s, New York, 3 November 1982, lot 262, and Sotheby’s, London, 13 October 1987, lot 149).

On the other side, the figure is identified as Tao Yuanming because of the chrysanthemums. He became so famous for his love of these flowers that they became forever associated with him. This picture depicts an aspect of the leisurely life of an intellectual. The chrysanthemum is among the four plants symbolizing the perfect gentleman (junzi), the others being the prunus, the orchid, and the bamboo.

This is one of the subjects repeated frequently by Ma or his studio where the painting is of a somewhat stiff, naïve style which is obviously rather decorative, although this is better than most. It is another indication that the bottle is more likely to be by a family member than by Ma Shaoxuan himself. Presumably, the symbolism and association with the literatus Tao Yuanming was the important selling point, and the artist could get away with a rather stiff, repeated rendition that appears as an alternative mode to the more masterly works of Ma Shaoxuan personally.

Although we suspect that this unusually thin crystal bottle was made especially for painting, it might just be an earlier version which Ma came across as a blank in the antique shops of Beijing.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1100&exhibition=9&ee_lang=eng


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Hugh Moss |