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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 53 

Lot 53


Lot 53
Treasury 4, no. 448 (‘The Port of Guangzhou’)

An inside-painted rock-crystal 'Port of Guangzhou' snuff bottle

Crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and protruding concave foot; painted with a continuous scene of the port of Guangzhou with both European and Chinese shipping
Lingnan, 1805–1820
Height: 6.04 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.62 cm
Stopper: coral; vinyl collar

Sotheby’s, London, 11 October 1974, lot 40
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1974)
Paula J. Hallett
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1988)

JICSBS, Spring 1993, p.11, figs. 18, 19, 20, 21
JICSBS, Autumn 1995, p. 22, fig. 4
Kleiner 1994a, fig. 21, upper left, between pp. 42 and 43
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 295
Kleiner 1995, no. 377
Treasury 4, no. 448

Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
British Museum, London, June–November 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997
Christie’s, London, 1999

Lingnan was the old name for an area that today roughly corresponds to the provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi, and has Guangzhou, or Canton, as its major metropolis. The broader Lingnan school of inside-painting, which includes the school of Gan Xuanwen, appears to have started up at some time during the first decade of the nineteenth century in response to what we now believe to have been the invention of the art form at Beijing. The earliest dated bottle by any Lingnan artist (1814) is by Gan Xuanwen (see Sale 2, lot 149).

The fairly consistent style of the larger Lingnan group of paintings is characterized by the use of multiple, rather stark black lines to portray landscape details, integrated formally by the addition of paler washes. Gan’s lines and washes, by contrast, are more homogeneous, less obviously separate elements. Both groups use dark outlines for details such as dwellings, trees, and figures, but the difference lies in the approach to painting the landscape.

This example is one of the port scenes from this more anonymous Lingnan group. That suggests a link between this group and Gan Xuanwen by his painting of the same scene (Treasury 4, no. 449). It seems likely that at least some, if not all of these works, represent an extension of the circle of friends of Gan Xuanwen, in which case any broader Lingnan school may be no more than an illusion created by the different style of, perhaps, only one of his friends. The whole Lingnan school may consist of one group of Lingnan literati who were snuff connoisseurs, addicts, and friends of Gan Xuanwen. For the time being, however, we will continue to make a distinction between the two Lingnan groups.

A series of the bottles from the more anonymous group was illustrated in Moss 1993, pp. 12–14, figs. 22–35, where other Guangzhou port scenes, as well as this one, are also illustrated (pp. 10 and 11, figs. 13–21). Only one of this entire Lingnan group is dated. It is inscribed in gold ink (ibid., p. 13, fig. 29) and dated 1824. Gan Xuanwen’s works are dated between 1814 and 1822.

The Bloch Collection has two port scenes, this one and the one by Gan Xuanwen mentioned above. Both deal with a similar view of Guangzhou, showing one of either the French or the Dutch Folly Forts that stand between Guangzhou and Whampoa Island on the Pearl River (Boca Tigris), closer to Guangzhou. The European trading warehouses (hongs) are also shown.

Many of the early port-scenes were painted inside faceted hexagonal crystal bottles, which can somewhat obscure the panorama. This is one of the few examples in a plain crystal bottle, which allows a clear view of the entire, continuous scene without interruption by the refraction created by faceting. This clarity is enhanced by the fact that it is also in remarkable condition for an inside-painted snuff bottle that is about two centuries old. Every line is still clear, and the original colour washes survive.

For other examples of port scenes, apart from the one by Gan Xuanwen in this collection, see Curtis 1980a, p. 91, and Huish 1896, p. 16, fig. 17, with the same bottle illustrated in Huish 1895, p. 28, plate 7.


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Hugh Moss |