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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 135 

Lot 135

Lot 135
Treasury 6, no. 1409 (‘A Night at the Opera’)
HK$18,750

Famille verte enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain, with a convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; painted with a scene from the opera Xiao shangfen (Visiting the Grave), in which Liu Lujing’s wife, Xiao Suzhen, discovers after many years that Liu is not dead, and the couple dances joyfully on the right side of the tight little composition while two yamen attendants with bamboo staffs look on approvingly on the left side, one kneeling in front of Liu, the other standing behind him; the foot, lip, inner neck, and interior glazed
Jingdezhen, 1840–1910
Height: 7.7 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.80/1.17 cm
Stopper: glass

Provenance:
Unknown Western collector, July 1925
Jin Hing, Los Angeles (1999)
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1999)

Published:
Treasury 6, no. 1409

During the nineteenth century there may have been a number of reasons for using the famille verte palette. Prominent among these in the later century may have been the demand from Europe and America. When Europe first began to import large quantities of Chinese porcelain in the seventeenth century, it was mostly blue-and-white or famille verte wares. Not unnaturally, these wares came to define Chinese ceramics in the European mind, so that when attention turned to collecting snuff bottles in quantity in the nineteenth century, similar wares were sought. Where there is a demand, Chinese potters will fill it. In wares other than snuff bottles, the quantities of fake Kangxi famille verte wares produced between the end of the Daoguang and the end of the 1940s was prodigious, and it was primarily for export.

At first blush it might seem that the subject of Chinese opera would hardly have been of interest to foreign snuff-bottle collectors, but this may not have been the case. To the Western eye, gazing in wonder at a strange new society in the nineteenth century, it would have been the oddities that were memorable. Chinese opera with its stylised structure, men playing all the female parts, distinctly unusual music to the Western ear, and rock-festival ambiance with everyone eating, chatting, moving about the audience, coming and going and generally making as much noise as the cast, which already constituted an impressive decibel level, was memorable. Even with little or no knowledge of the language, history, and literature of the country, a foreigner could find such a spectacle entertaining. A subject like this would make an ideal selling point in Europe to a collector who had learned a little about what it meant and could talk about it to his home audience. The palette of enamels would also allow it to acquire a little extra age by the time it ended up in a cabinet in Europe. Story tellers tend to exaggerate. There were other reasons for using an ancient palette, and there was local demand, of course, for opera subjects. In truth, we have no way of knowing the original target market for such bottles. All we can be reasonably certain of is that this item was in a Western collection by 1925. There is an old label glued to the foot that reads ‘S. L. July 1925, C. 200’. The ‘S. L.’ might be the initials of the owner, as indicated in Treasury 6, no. 1409; or it could be the seller or the place of purchase (St. Louis?). ‘C. 200’ could have any number of interpretations.

Being of the earlier palette, this bottle is difficult to date from the enamels as one can, to some extent, with the famille rose palette in the nineteenth century. We can be certain, nevertheless, that it is not from the Kangxi period. The shape is also unhelpful, being a basic standard from the early nineteenth century to the end of the dynasty. The paste (the biscuit porcelain) is more indicative, suggesting the second half of the century, possibly even the very early twentieth century.

In the opera Xiao shangfen (Visiting the Grave), a man named Liu Lujing who, in compliance with government rules, stayed in Beijing to await for an official appointment after he had successfully passed the final civil-service examination, failed to receive one until many years later. In the meantime his wife, Xiao Suzhen, having received no communication from him at all, thought he must have died. She made a grave for him and paid her respects from time to time. Eventually Liu Lujing was appointed to be a district magistrate, but decided to go home first to see his wife. When he reached his hometown he saw in the suburb a woman who looked like his wife crying in earnest in front of a grave, that day being the day of the Qingming festival, a time for people to sweep the graves of the deceased. He was perplexed but soon found out from her that it was for him that she was shedding tears. While he was touched by her loyalty, she thought he was no more than a stranger with designs on her, for his appearance had changed much during all these years. She could not recognize him until he was able to prove himself by giving her details of their life together before he made the trip to the capital.

The scene depicted here shows the couple rejoicing after they have verified their identities. The two yamen attendants who escort Liu on his way to his new office look on the happy reunion with delight.

 

This is not the Sotheby’s sale catalogue. This is a product of Hugh Moss for the purposes of this website. For the catalogue details please refer to Sotheby’s website or request a copy of a printed sale catalogue from Sotheby’s

 

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Lot 132 Lot 133 Lot 134 Lot 135 Lot 136 Lot 137 Lot 138

 

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