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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 43 

Lot 43


Lot 43
Treasury 4, no.545 (‘Happiness, Emolument, and Longevity ‘)

An inside-painted glass 'Shou Lao' snuff bottle

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with a pair of cranes beside two ancient pine trees with lingzhi growing at the foot of one, their upper branches lost in mist, inscribed in a combination of draft and regular script with the title ‘The Pine and the Crane Enjoy Long Lives’, followed by the date and signature in draft script ‘[Executed] in a spring month in the year dingyou by Ding Erzhong’, with one seal of the artist, Erzhong, in positive seal script; the other main side with Shou Lao, the God of Longevity, reclining against his recumbent deer, his gnarled staff behind him tied with a double gourd for wine and with auspicious fruit, while two bats fly overhead, inscribed in draft script with the title ‘Painting of [Symbols of] Happiness, Emolument and Longevity’, followed by ‘My family owns a hanging scroll by Master Yuhu. In a spring month of the year dingyou Erzhong painted this at Xuannan by following the master’s idea in reduced scale’, with two seals of the artist, Ding, and Erzhong, both in negative seal script
Ding Erzhong, Xuannan, Beijing, spring, 1897
Height: 6.46 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.67/1.75 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; rhinoceros horn collar

Sotheby’s, London, 5 December 1983, lot 188

Arts of Asia, May–June 1984, p. 102
Kleiner 1987, no. 255
JICSBS, Spring 1988, front cover
Treasury 4, no.545

Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Christie’s, London, 1999

From 1897, we have a record of eleven Ding Erzhong bottles. This appears to have been the first year in which Ding painted the subject of Shou Lao, the God of Longevity. There are two known bottles of the subject from this year, and both are in this collection (the other is Treasury 4, no. 546). The two have nothing in common other than the subject. Otherwise, stance, composition, details, colour and even style are all different.

In this unusual inscription Ding speaks of a painting owned by his family and painted by Yuhu, the literary name of Gai Qi (1773 – 1828; see Treasury 4, no. 541, another Ding bottle inspired by the same artist).

There is a tiny touch here that speaks volumes for Ding’s imaginativeness as an artist. In some of the finest bat painting in the medium, achieved with just a few black strokes and perfectly placed to balance the composition and offset the dark body of the deer and the protruding end of the gnarled staff, Ding has incorporated a tiny bubble in the glass as an eye of one bat. It is a touch of genius that is invisible without the aid of a magnifying glass, but unquestionably intentional.

There is another indication of Ding’s growing confidence, in the wake of his complete technical mastery of 1895, of which we are the beneficiaries. Up until, and including 1895, Ding’s inscriptions are mostly basic information such as signatures, dates and dedications. From 1896 onwards we begin to see longer calligraphic inscriptions, like this one, where the calligraphic element begins to equal the painting element. The balance here is lovely, with the two seals carefully offsetting both the calligraphy and the vermilion of the deity’s robes and the cloth bag tied to the end of his staff. By 1897, Ding’s inside-painted calligraphy had become totally confident, expressive, and distinctive.


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Hugh Moss |