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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 132 

Lot 132

Lot 132
Treasury 4, no. 587 (‘Portrait of Na Dong’a’)

Glass, ink, and vermilion watercolour; with a flat lip and a recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with an ink portrait of Natong, the other main side inscribed in regular script with a poetic inscription preceded by the date ‘the tenth month of the year renyin’ and followed by the signature ‘Ma Shaoxuan,’ with one seal of the artist, Shaoxuan, in negative seal script
Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, tenth month, 1902
Height: 6.04 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.53/1.60 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Arts of China, Hong Kong (1985)

Kleiner 1987, no. 293
JICSBS, Spring 1989, p. 31
Ma Zengshan 1997, p. 54, fig. 37, and p. 76, fig. 76
Treasury 4, no. 587

Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Christie's, London, 1999

The subject of this portrait was identified by Emily Byrne Curtis (JICSBS, Spring 1989, p. 31) who was not the first to begin the task of identifying the subjects of these portraits, but was certainly the most thorough and the one who will go down in history associated with this effort, among many other pioneering contributions to our understanding of the snuff-bottle arts.
The poem reads:

The virtues of clear ice and pure jade,
Are united in equal measure in his own person.
So when he enters the realm of many fragrances,
He can ‘be steeped in a dark fluid without being made black’.

The last line is a quotation from the Confucian Analects, where Confucius justifies his associating with someone who is less than worthy by saying he cannot be corrupted: ‘Is it not said that, if a thing be really white, it may be steeped in a dark fluid without being made black?’ (James Legge tr.) From this, we may gather that the ‘realm of many fragrances’ is not where someone with a pure character would ordinarily be expected to go.

The portrait is of Natong (also written Na Tong, 1857 – 1925), a high Manchu official of the same lineage (Yehenala) as the Empress Dowager. After the fall of Beijing in the Boxer Rebellion, he, Yikuang, and Li Hongzhang were charged with negotiating with the foreign powers; the year before the date on this bottle, Natong had gone to Japan to convey official apologies for the death of a member of the Japanese delegation during the Boxer Rebellion.


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


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1515&exhibition=11&ee_lang=eng


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