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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 70 

Lot 70

Lot 70
Treasury 4, no. 534 (‘Yu Shuyun's Homage to Zhou Leyuan’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with landscape with a plank bridge over a stream that opens up into a broad expanse of water, with trees in the foreground and towering rock formations on the far bank giving way to distant mountain peaks, inscribed in draft script 'Executed by Zhou Leyuan at the capital in the twelfth month of the year renchen at the Studio of Lotus-root Fragrance’, with one seal of Zhou Leyuan, yuan yin (seal of yuan), in negative seal script, the other main side with copies of eight ancient inscriptions from various sources, preceded by one seal of the artist, yun, in negative seal script and followed by 'Executed by Shuyun', with one further seal of the artist, Shu, in positive seal script
Yu Shuyun, 1893 –1896
Height: 6 cm
Mouth/Lip: 0.7/1.7 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Dr and Mrs Louis E. Wolferz
Sotheby’s New York, 3November 1982. Lot 277
Gerd Lester (1986)

Treasury 4, no. 534

Christie's, London, 1999 

After Zhang Baotian, Ye Zhongsan, and Li Shouchang, who appear to have been the earliest artists to take up the bamboo pen of the bottle-painter after Zhou Leyuan, there follows a stampede of artists in the years from 1893 to the end of the century. During 1893 two further artists take the stage, one a minor artist of some merit and considerable rarity, Yu Shuyun, and the other one of the greatest of all artists in the medium, Ding Erzhong.

Yu Shuyun is reputed to have done only one or two intriguing bottles. In fact we have a record of a total of seven examples dating from 1893 to 1895, bottles that reveal a distinct artistic personality and one or two inspired paintings, although interspersed with some more pedestrian work. When Kleiner published Sale 3, lot 104 (Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 307) he compared both style and quality of painting to that of Ding Erzhong and suggested that, like Ding, Yu Shuyun must have been an established literatus. If so, he was not well enough established to have warranted a record in any of the biographical dictionaries of artists, as Ding did. Neither does Yu's style or quality come close to matching Ding Erzhong's. Quite apart from the extreme literacy and fluency of Ding's style, one only has to compare their calligraphy. Ding's is the calligraphy of a practised master, transferring his art to the inside of a bottle; Yu's is that of an artisan providing his patrons with what they want. His copies of ancient scripts, as charming and amusing as they are, have nothing of the inherent power and control of a serious master of calligraphy like Ding. It is far more likely that Yu was one of many craftsmen who took up the art as a profession in the wake of Zhou Leyuan and who, for whatever reason, only painted for a very short time, producing few works.

This is the least impressive painting of the three in the Bloch collection, but the most intriguing. The side with the landscape is inscribed and signed with a credible attempt at Zhou Leyuan's calligraphic style, although the landscape makes no concessions to Zhou's style whatsoever. The other side, with its copies of ancient inscriptions, is signed quite openly by Yu Shuyun and bears two of his seals. As we pointed out under no. 506, Zhou's name must have been invoked as almost a brand name for the art of inside-painting rather than as an attempt to actually fool anyone. The date on it relates, of course, not to Yu Shuyun but to Zhou Leyuan, so as far as Yu is concerned, it is undated.

The texts are in archaistic bronze script and Han-dynasty seal script; they represent rubbings and copies that would have been circulating widely at the end of the nineteenth century.

The same calligraphic selection is repeated, albeit in a different sequence, on another example published by Bob C. Stevens in The Collector's Book of Snuff Bottles (no. 919).


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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