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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 15 

Lot 15


Lot 15
Treasury 4, no. 473

Summer in the River Gorge

Flawless crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; painted on one main side with a scholar seated in a boat, being poled by a boatman, in a river gorge between tree-laden banks and cliffs with a country retreat or small village in the middle distance and towering mountains beyond, with two seals of the artist, le, and, yuan, both in positive seal script, the other main side with a similar scene, but with a scholar crossing a rustic bridge, holding a long staff, his attendant walking behind him carrying a large bundle
Bottle: 1730–1850
Painting: Zhou Leyuan, Studio of Lotus-root Fragrance, Xuannan, Beijing, circa 1886
Height: 8.25 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.62/1.62 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Lot 15 Provenance:
Robert Hall (1991)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1992)

JICSBS, Spring 1991, p. 1
JICSBS, Winter 1992, back cover
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 314
Treasury 4, no. 473

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
Christie’s, London, 1999

Lot 15 Commentary
This is one of Zhou’s great early masterpieces. The two lovely landscape scenes are painted with great subtlety, the paintings are in studio condition and the crystal bottle as elegant and lovely a form for an inside-painted as any known. Although it is not signed, the seals leave us in no doubt as to who painted it, and even without them there would still be no doubt. Nobody else ever copied this early Zhou style, preferring to copy the style he was doing when the first of his followers began working around 1890. At that time they would have seen his style as he was doing it then and copied that, rather than have delved back in time to copy his earlier works.

When published previously, this bottle was dated to 1885 on stylistic grounds, but we believe it was painted in 1886, and probably in the middle of the year. The landscapes from 1885 are on a smaller scale, and use none of the pale, turquoise green wash which permeates this painting. The closest parallel is with the landscape, of a very similar subject in identical style, from the J & J Collection, formerly in the Ko Collection (Moss, Graham, Tsang, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 409). That one was painted in the summer of 1886 and it seems likely that this was painted at about the same time. Another feature both have, which is absent from landscapes from 1885, is the large-scale pine trees with green foliage which are the forerunners of his standard later pine tree.

The subject here is, yet again, the idealized landscape inhabited by the scholar with nothing better to do than delight in it. The old man crossing the bridge on one side, in a very similar composition to the old man on a bridge in the J & J bottle, is out for a stroll, staff in hand, his servant a step or two behind him. The other side appears to depict a scholar out boating who is either doing it for the sheer joy of it, or taking a ferry across the river, not that the two are mutually exclusive.

The interior polishing here also allows for one side to be partially seen from the other, as on Treasury 4, no. 472, where the phenomenon is discussed. This may seem a strange choice for an inside-painted bottle, and particularly one as delicately painted as this where the transparency can confuse the paintings on the two sides, even with the hand blocking out any back-light. It is worth reminding ourselves, however, of one salient fact about inside-painted snuff bottles: they were made to hold snuff. Filled with snuff, the degree of transparency would have been unimportant, other than as it affected the capacity of the surface to hold the pigments. Watercolours will not hold well on a transparent crystal or glass surface, but will on an etched, frosted one. This point is well made by surviving bottles painted on shiny interiors, none of which are without some flaking away of areas of paint.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=141&exhibition=1&ee_lang=eng


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