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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 77 

Lot 77

 
   

Lot 77
Treasury 4, no.502 (‘Longevity, Descendants, and an Unblemished Reputation’)
HK$75,000

An inside-painted glass 'insects and goldfish' snuff bottle

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted with a continuous scene of a rocky outcrop with a katydid crawling on it beneath a dragonfly, three fan-tailed goldfish swimming in a pond beneath and a variety of foliage, including some white blossoming flowers and a cabbage; inscribed in draft script ‘For the pure appreciation of Yunfeng, the honourable third elder brother, painted at the capital in the prunus month of the year renchen by Zhou Leyuan’, with one seal of the artist, Leyuan, in negative seal script
Zhou Leyuan, The Studio of Lotus-root Fragrance, Xuannan, Beijing, fourth month, 1892
Height: 6.3 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.51/1.6 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Provenance:
Y.F. Yang (1980)
Gerd Lester (1986)

Published:
Treasury 4, no.502

Exhibited: 
Christie's, London, 1999.
Musée de la Miniature, Montelimar, 2000

This is typical of Zhou’s late works, crisp, masterful, and with a brief inscription, here adding a dedication to his usual identification of artist, date, and place of painting. It is all written in the confident, angular calligraphy of his last years. Again, the tails are faded on the vermilion fish, although one can still see the traces of the yellowish wash originally used. Were it not for the fact that the black and white fish in all of these compositions have all of their anatomical details intact, we would be tempted to wonder whether Zhou intended them to be faded to give the impression of being further under water, or away from the viewer, but since it is always the vermilion fish that seem tailless, or at least with very faint tails, this seems improbable. It is strange though, since the rest of this painting is in such good condition. We believe that whatever this pale colour was originally, it was particularly susceptible to the ravages of snuff.

The painting of rocks as a main subject has a long history in Chinese art, since they were so highly valued by the literati as sculpture. Rocks in the garden or on the scholar’s table often had strange shapes and very irregular surfaces; rocks in paintings were therefore free to assume whatever dynamic postures or dispositions they needed to sustain interest as the main subject. On one side of this bottle, a relatively restrained line of rockery arches across the picture plane and frames the vacuity in which the fish swim; on the other, rockery explodes over two-thirds of the area with a variety of textures, two masses of small rocks and vegetation tipping toward each other and capped by the smoother rock on which the katydid stands. And always, whatever the composition, the painted rocks are the occasion for expressive brushwork, which one responds to as one reads good calligraphy, enjoying the modulations of line and colour that have only tangentially any descriptive function.

 

Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1122&exhibition=9&ee_lang=eng


  
  

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Hugh Moss |