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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 21 

Lot 21

 
 
   

Lot 21
Treasury 5, no.1050 (‘Homage to Wang Su’)
HK$106,250

A carved white glass 'Lanting Preface' snuff bottle

Semi-transparent white glass; with a flat lip and protruding footrim; engraved on one main side with a scholar seated beside a bamboo grove on a grassy bank gazing at the moon, the other main side with an excerpt from the ‘LantingPreface’ (lines 17 - 38), followed by, ‘Made by Yanbin jushi at Quantang in early summer of the year xinchou of the Guangxu period’, followed by one seal of the artist in negative seal script, Zhou, the foot engraved in seal script Xinquan zhenshang (‘Treasured by Xinquan’) within a rectangular cartouche
Bottle: possibly Yuanhu, Zhejiang province, circa 1901
Decoration: Zhou Honglai, Hangzhou, summer, 1901
Height: 5.4 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.6/1.7 cm
Stopper: glass; vinyl collar

Provenance:
Robert Hall (1991)

Published:
Hall 1991, no. 89
Treasury 5, no.1050

Exhibited:
Office of Maître Jutheau, Paris, September 1991
Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Boston, October 1991

The name Quantang confused us in Treasury 5, no. 1050, but it turns out to be an old name for Qiantang, or Hangzhou. We already knew Zhou Honglai was working there in 1901 (Treasury 5, no. 1051) as well as in 1903 (Sale 3, lot 8).

We might also add some clarification on Yuanhu, which we have been identifying as a likely source for Zhou’s bottles, locating it vaguely in Zhejiang province (see, for example, Sale 2, lot 25). Yuanhu is indeed in that province but, more precisely, it is in the centre of Jiaxing (Yuanhu is presently called Nanhu, ‘South Lake’), and it was a well-known scenic spot in the Ming and Qing dynasties. One wonders whether Zhou used it simply as an elegant name for the city. Jiaxing is close enough to Hangzhou that he could have easily gone back and forth, perhaps working there when he had a commission from a client, as seems to have been the case with Sale 2, lot 25. (The translation in our caption there erroneously states that the engraving was done at the request of Youmei; in fact, it was done for Youmei to ‘correct’, as one would politely suggest to the recipient of one’s gift.)

Most of the bottles used by Zhou Honglai are of a standard range of rather dull, semi-transparent white glass in distinctive shapes that appear with such frequency that they must surely have been produced for him. Many lack foot rims and display only a protruding flat foot. These bottles possess so little artistic appeal in their own right that they were surely considered as no more than ‘canvases’ for Zhou’s art.

The subject here is one of his larger-scale figures in landscape, and so similar to the decoration on the bottle bearing a version of Wang Su’s painting (Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, no. 61) that it must surely have been inspired by the same work. The long inscription on the other main side is the popular ‘Lanting Preface’ by Wang Xizhi (for details and a full translation, see Sale 1, lot 28).

A microscopic examination of Zhou’s writing reveals instances where the artist has obviously used multiple incisions to broaden a stroke, but the fluency of the calligraphy is not merely similar to brush work, but impressive even by brush work standards. Here, Zhou has succeeded in a magnificent imitation of brush work, with broad, oblique beginnings to strokes, and all the other flourishes, twists and turns one expects of that medium.

The Xinquan mark on the base is one of at least four known owner’s inscriptions added by Zhou and, since they are all different, we may safely assume most of them identify an owner rather than the artist himself. It is likely that Zhou was usually commissioned (it is a certainty in some cases), so it is possible that he would add the studio or art name of the patron. There was a Cao Xinquan who lived 1864 – 1938 and was involved in the theatrical world in Beijing, where snuffing was popular. The Marakovic Collection contains a Jingdezhen-made enamelled porcelain bottle with the name of the school’s hall in Beijing on it; it was in that hall that Cao Xinquan died. If Cao’s school commissioned snuff bottles, we would not be surprised to see that someone had a snuff bottle made for him. But there are many other people who took the name Xinquan, so we cannot conclusively say which one of them was to ‘treasure and enjoy’ this bottle.

 

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Hugh Moss |