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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 32 

Lot 32


Lot 32
Treasury 5, no.1056 (‘Snuff in the Misty Dawn’)

A carved speckled pink glass 'landscape' snuff bottle

Speckled, dark pink glass sandwiched between an outer layer of semi- transparent white glass and an inner layer of translucent white glass; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; engraved on one main side with two scholars seated beneath a bare tree near a bamboo grove on a rocky bank, overlooking a distant body of water and mountains, and on the other with an inscription in clerical script, preceded by, ‘An Inscription Composed by Shouyan sheng (‘A Scholar who Keeps an Inkstone’) of Daxing’, and followed by ‘Characters engraved by Zhou Honglai, [alias] Yanbin’, both in regular script, with one seal of the artist in positive seal script, Zhou
Bottle: 1730-1830
Decoration: Zhou Honglai, 1890-1910
Height: 5.31 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.65/1.1 cm
Stopper: nephrite; mother-of-pearl collar

Robert Kleiner (1992)

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 136
Treasury 5, no.1056

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March-June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994-February 1995

Two of Zhou’s bottles are inscribed in clerical script (the other is in the Humphrey Hui Collection: Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, no. 60). Both, coincidentally, are on much earlier, sandwiched pink glass bottles, and since the other one is the earliest known dated example by Zhou, from 1895, this may be similarly early, although we have left a broader range in case. As we noted earlier, his clerical script is no less commanding than his more customary draft script, and he was quite clearly a calligrapher with a broad range, since on a few examples he also copied ancient bronze script. It is a delightful bonus for us to find Zhou’s works on lovely early bottles rather than distinctly pedestrian white glass shapes. We suspect that he probably chose this subtle pink and white glass by virtue of the splendid effect of misty landscape it lends to his composition. It cannot have been coincidence that similar landscape paintings appear on both examples, the drifting mist of the whiter tones adding immeasurably to the impact.

Shouyan sheng was a name used by Wang Zuguang (1847 -- ?; 1871 jinshi), a native of Daxing (now part of Beijing) who published a number of works of poetry and seal inscriptions. In 1892, he composed the text for a stele in the Hangzhou Confucian temple commemorating a father and son who committed suicide after failing to prevent the Taipings from taking Hangzhou; he identifies himself as belonging to the Coastal Defense Circuit for Hangzhou, Jiaxing, and Huzhou (Du and Xu 2008, pp. 130 – 131). On 17 September 1896 (Guangxu 22/8/kueiyou), the Veritable Records of the dynasty record the fact that he made a presentation to the court and identify him with that same circuit. Thus, at least from 1892 through 1896, Wang was an official in the area where Zhou Honglai was working.

Wang Zuguang’s inscription on this bottle is about snuff. The first four lines are four characters each; the next three are six, and the last is seven. Read in Mandarin, the rhyme scheme could be ababxbbb if one allows ‘nose’ (in the second tone) to rhyme with all the other line endings in the fourth tone. The only poetic form in which we would expect such liberties would be the qu, or ‘aria’, which emerged in the Yuan dynasty (as the language we call Mandarin was coming into being) and continued to be written in the Ming and Qing dynasties. We shall not take the time on this occasion to verify that the inscription follows one of the metrical matrices for the qu (there are many).

Through Zen at the fingertips,
One gets the key to the organs.
It has no affinity to smoke and fire;
It is unlike the fumes of a censer.

It stimulates the desire to roam and versify;
It is as addictive as tea and wine.
Alas, the murky affairs of the world;
If you would maintain your purity, then cover your noses together.

Wang finished a book called the Shanghan leijing, ‘Classified canon of cold-related disorders’, in 1894. If we ever run across a copy (it seems to exist only in manuscript and a handwritten copy thereof), we shall see what he has to say about snuff.


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Hugh Moss |