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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 69 

Lot 69


Lot 69
Treasury 4, no.649 (‘A Pot of Fish’)

An inside-painted 'hair-crystal' 'goldfish' snuff bottle

Crystal with inclusions of tourmaline, with ink and watercolours; with a broad, flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding broad, flat footrim; painted with a continuous composition of nine fan-tailed goldfish swimming among aquatic plants, inscribed in draft script, ‘[Executed by] Ye Zhongsan in the third month of the year xinyou’, with one seal of the artist, yin (‘seal’), in negative seal script
Bottle: 1800–1880
Painting: Ye family, the Apricot Grove Studio, Chongwen district, Beijing, third month, 1921
Height: 4.21 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.9/2.5 cm
Stopper: transparent ruby-red glass carved with a coiled chi dragon; gilt-bronze collar

Robert Kleiner (1992)

Kleiner 1995, no. 410
Treasury 4, no.649

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

Around 1912 we can see evidence of Ye Bengzhen’s work in the Ye family studio (see Treasury 4, no. 646), but we search in vain for any sign of Ye Xiaofeng joining his father at some time around 1920. The decade between 1915 and 1925 was a successful one for the Ye family, if the surviving output is anything to go by, and no doubt the extra pair of skilled hands came in useful towards the end of that period. But whenever he started, Ye Xiaofeng seems to have been sufficiently well trained that his style fitted seamlessly in with the family style.

Being from 1921, this painting might conceivably have been done by any of three artists working under the same signature. The fact that we see only fan-tailed goldfish here may indicate a slightly hesitant hand, but the family had produced bottles with just goldfish before, and this alone is no indication of the work of either son. Nor can we see any sense of hesitancy or lack of skill in the painting of the fish. They are simplified, with the red fish painted only with vermilion and white, without any shading or modelling of the bodies and two simple black dots for their eyes. The tourmaline needles are so densely packed, with only patches of clearer crystal where one could readily see the detailing on a fish, that a simpler design might, in any case, have suggested itself to the artist.

Whoever painted it, this is another of the masterpieces from the Ye family where a lovely material has been used with considerable imagination to create a bottle that is much more exciting than the sum of its parts. This was probably inspired, in part, by the unusual nature of the tourmaline inclusions in the crystal, which are as chaotic and varied as any known, with clumps of black hair-like crystals shooting off in all directions, icy flaws, cloudy patches, and even considerable iridescence.

There seems little doubt that the bottle here is an older one. These snuff pots, of squat form, with very wide lips and sometimes very wide mouths, appear to have been a development of the early nineteenth century, when they began to appear in a variety of materials, including porcelain. Those with a wide mouth were apparently made to accommodate a new fashion in snuff-taking, which involved placing flowers in the mouth of the bottle overnight in order to change the fragrance of the snuff. For a very similar bottle but without the painting, see Chinese Porcelain Company 1991, p. 40, no. 169.

The stopper on this bottle is quite extraordinary. Carved from a piece of transparent ruby-coloured glass and with an elegantly coiled chi dragon as its main decoration, it appears to have been made specifically for this bottle or, if not, then for one of a similar type with an equally wide mouth, suggesting a nineteenth-century date for the carving.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1131&exhibition=9&ee_lang=eng


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Hugh Moss |