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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 31 

Lot 31

 

Lot 31
Treasury 4, no. 658
HK$144,000

Serious Panda Bears

Flawless crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding broad, flattened footrim; the narrow sides carved with mask-and-ring handles; painted on one main side with four gibbons, one a baby in its mother’s arms, beside a series of rapids flowing beneath a mature pine tree in which one of the gibbons climbs holding a flower in one hand, the other main side with two pandas in a bamboo grove, inscribed in draft script ‘In the winter of the year renyin Wang Xisan executed this at Taiping zhuang (Peaceful Hamlet) in the capital’, with two seals of the artist, Wang and Xisan, both in negative seal script
 Bottle: probably Official school, 1760–1860
Painting: Wang Xisan, Taiping zhuang, Beijing vicinity, 1962
Height: 7.18 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.80/2.68 cm
Stopper: aquamarine; gilt-brass collar

Lot 31 Provenance:
Unrecorded source (1970–1973)
Hugh Moss (1985)
Published:
JICSBS, December 1980, p. 23
Kleiner 1987, no. 308
Treasury 4, no. 658
Exhibited:
New Orleans, October 1980 (Member’s Display — prize-winning bottle)
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Christie’s, London, 1999

Lot 31 Commentary
In another lovely early crystal bottle, this is further proof of the mastery achieved by Wang Xisan so soon after beginning his career. By the winter of 1962, Wang had been painting bottles for just under five years, having begun training in February 1958, less than the period Ma Shaoxuan trained before he was willing to present works to his father for serious consideration (see under Treasury 4, no. 576) and only about half the time it took for Ma to reach even the hesitant stage he had reached by 1894. Yet here is Wang, after only a little more than four years in the field, producing masterpieces of a quality that would stand on an equal footing with any in the history of the art.

It is, as always, a fresh subject and composition for the art form, although the image of the two pandas was painted earlier in the year with the two beasts in a similar pose but in a much simpler grove (Hugh Moss Records). The bears were much less subtly painted, and it is obvious that Wang continued to ponder how to improve on this new subject. This represents his answer, where he has increased the complexity of the setting, reduced the size of the two bears, and painted them with much greater subtlety. The quality of the painting is beyond question, but what is even more astonishing is that Wang has managed to paint pandas without the main theme being their cute and cuddly nature. This alone is no mean feat in modern China. At the time, Chinese painting was beginning to suffer from the constraints of Communism and was in the throes of turning the world’s most sophisticated aesthetic culture with a pictorial tradition that had been fully mature for a thousand years to the task of ‘serving the people’ by painting appropriately encouraging images. The next few years would see a spate of smiling workers climbing electricity pylons in a blizzard to reconnect power, cute images of grinning children delighting in their Communist utopia while doing their part for the state, and hundreds of other kitsch paintings that brought art down to the lowest possible common denominator as obsequious servant of a political ideology. These years of the emasculation of Chinese painting would take their toll on Wang’s work later, but in the early 1960s, he was able to paint a pair of pandas primarily as a work of art and not as an act of propaganda or as an anodyne attempt to capture just their saccharine surface appeal so as not to offend anyone in power. Later, during the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent domination of the Gang of Four, offering offence as an artist might cost you your life. This led to a climate that encouraged in art only spiritually bereft, politically correct, pretty pictures that would not offend. It caused as much harm to the noble tradition of Chinese painting as had any previous political upheaval.

In these early years, however, Wang was free of all these problems, as his newly adopted studio name, Peaceful Hamlet, implies. Wang had found peace, doing what he wanted to do and developing the art that he had chosen as his own. The Peaceful Hamlet refers to the Beijing Arts and Crafts Corporation workshop which was set up in 1962
and to which the Ye brothers and their students were moved in that year. The same designation is given to it in another bottle in the Bloch Collection, lot 50, (Treasury 4, no. 659), dated to 1963, proving that it was not his place of painting prior to the move. This was the studio where Moss visited the remaining artists in 1974, although Wang himself had long since been banished to the hometown he had never really known (for the artists working at the studio in Beijing at that time, see Treasury 4, no. 668).

For the 1980 convention of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, in New Orleans, Hugh Moss loaned this bottle to Alex S. Cussons, his good friend and one of the great English pioneers of collecting from the mid-century. In those days collectors would bring their bottles to the convention and display them in special cabinets and everyone would vote on the best bottle in each of half a dozen categories, the awards to be announced at the final banquet. Much prestige was attached to this award, of course, since collectors then were not so sophisticated as they are now and a little applause from one’s fellow collectors helped overcome a few uncertainties from time to time. Cussons was unable to enter any of his own bottles at the time, since he had sold most of the collection and what remained were in his home in South Africa, so he asked Moss to lend him a bottle. It was the year of the Monkey and there was to be a category specially for any bottle decorated with a monkey, so Moss lent him this bottle and, of course, it won hands down.

 

Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=122&exhibition=1&ee_lang=eng


  
  

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