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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 94 

Lot 94

Lot 94
Treasury 4, no. 645 (‘Ye’s Small Gathering’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted with a continuous composition of seven scholars in a bamboo grove at various scholarly pursuits, two of them listening to a third read from a scroll, while two more play weiqi and another plays the flute, the seventh walks across a plank bridge from the bamboo grove with his attendant carrying his qin beside him, the grove with large boulders rising up from it and with a glimpse of bamboo fencing beyond, inscribed in draft script, ‘Executed by Ye Zhongsan in mid-spring of the year renzi’, with one seal of the artist, yin (‘seal’), in negative seal script
Ye Zhongsan, the Apricot Grove Studio, Chongwen district, Beijing, mid-spring, 1912
Height: 4.52 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.50/1.22 cm
Stopper: tourmaline with integral finial and collar

Robert Hall (1989)

Treasury 4, no. 645

Christie's, London, 1999 

We have separated the works of the Ye family into two groups, the first constituting Ye’s solo efforts before he was joined by any of his children and a family workshop was formed, and the second being the product of the family workshop years. We believe this division came around 1912, although it is possible that Ye Bengzhen, the eldest son and the first to join the family studio, might have been helping his father to paint as early as 1911. Ye had three sons join him in the family workshop. The younger two, Ye Xiaofeng and Ye Bengqi, went on to found their own school in the 1950s, training several artists, including the most famous modern master, Wang Xisan. The elder brother, Ye Bengzhen, we learned about only when Hugh Moss interviewed Ye Bengqi in Beijing over a period of two weeks in early 1974.

Bengqi believed that his eldest brother, Bengzhen, began to paint snuff bottles at about the age of fifteen or sixteen, which was in 1911 or 1912. He died in 1929, so his hand may have been involved in studio works between those years. Bengqi recalled that his elder brother, Ye Xiaofeng was painting alongside his father and Ye Bengzhen from between 1920 and 1922, and Bengqi himself appears to have started about 1928. If his recollection of his own starting date is accurate, then in 1928 and possibly part of 1929, there might have been as many as four artists all working under the name Ye Zhongsan.

The facts that they were all capable of painting in the father’s style, that the father may have inscribed bottles painted by his sons, that the children could copy his signature if he did not, and that they would drop out in order of seniority in hard times, provide more than enough obfuscating confusion to prevent us from regularly deciding on individual authorship during the studio years. For further details on the studio years, see Moss 1984, p. 49.

While we may not be able to consistently distinguish one studio artist from another after about 1912, in the early years we can still be confident of what Ye Zhongsan himself produced. We know that only one other artist was working between about 1912 and 1920, so in the earlier part of that period, when Ye Bengzhen was learning the trade, some bottles are obviously by Zhongsan. This is one of them. The composition and technique are both typical of Ye Zhongsan’s mature figure-painting style, and the lovely little inscription is from a practised hand and that hand is obviously Ye Zhongsan’s.

The subject appears to be the legendary third-century gathering of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, for which see Sale 6, lot 220.


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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