Lot 23 Lot 24 Lot 25 Lot 26 Lot 27 Lot 28 Lot 29

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

Lot 26

Lot 26
Treasury 4, no. 449 (‘Gan Xuanwen’s Port of Guangzhou’)

Crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed, slightly concave foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim of rounded rectangular shape; painted on one main side with a river gorge with two scholars, each in his own boat, talking together beneath a cliff, with an open pavilion in the foreground and distant mountains beyond, and on the other three sides with a view of the port of Guangzhou with both Western and Chinese shipping
Gan Xuanwen, Lingnan, 1810–1825
Height: 6.53 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.58/1.6 cm
Stopper: glass; silver collar

Robert Hall (1997)

Treasury 4, no. 449

Christie's, London, 1999 

This is the only known example that links a typical Gan Xuanwen painting, which can only be by him, with a view of the Port of Guangzhou (see Sale 4, lot 53), proving beyond reasonable doubt that he was involved, if only once, in producing this popular image. That he did not also paint all the others is suggested by the difference in style. Sale 4, lot 53 is of the school that used black line to delineate the details over colour washes, whereas here, although there is black line used, as there is in all of Gan’s works, the landscape style is a softer, more realistic, integrated one typical of Gan’s work, particularly noticeable in the far hills compared with those of the example in Sale 4.

The scene is substantially the same as the one on Sale 4, lot 53, but without the reaches of the Pearl River above and below the Folly Fort and hongs allowed by a continuous format. The painting here is more poetic and more in keeping with the literati tradition of Chinese painting, in which Gan played a minor and purely local role. There is much greater concern for mood, the distant hills of Guangzhou nestling in a pale haze, the foreground trees adumbrated rather than precisely delineated, and for a balance between wash and line and between different ink-tones. Compare, for instance, the forts in each case. On Sale 4, lot 53, it is a cartoon fort, outlined and filled with two simple colours, whereas Gan has created a real impression of a rather decrepit fort, with trees and foliage growing out of its ramparts and time-scarred battlements.

Gan Xuanwen was a minor literatus who would be forgotten but for a single extant painting in the Art Gallery at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and his relatively large body of surviving snuff bottles. The painting (see JICSBS, Spring 1991, pp. 7–15) furnishes all of the information about the artist that is known and was later recorded in a biographical dictionary of Guangdong artists (Xie Wenyong 1985). From this single long handscroll of travelling in the mountains of Yunnan, apparently painted, or at least started, while Gan was on a boat trip there, we learn a lot about the artist and a little about his circle of friends. There are several colophons added to the painting by other Lingnan scholars, including one by Chen Quan, who also painted inside snuff bottles (see Sale 2, lot 70), and these fill out the bare details afforded by Gan’s own inscription, which is, regrettably, partly worm-eaten, as is much of the scroll. The date of the painting is given as a specific year in the Jiaqing reign, but due to damage to the inscription, we can narrow it only to between the sixteenth and nineteenth years, 1811 and 1814).

The various inscriptions on the handscroll add some useful information about the artist. His own signature, located at the end of the inscription, reads ‘Gan Xuanwen of Gugang in Lingnan.’ This is followed by his two seals: Gan Xuanwen yin (‘seal of Gan Xuanwen’) and Qingshan (‘Clear Mountain’), apparently his zi, or courtesy name. In the colophon written by the calligrapher Zhu Renfeng of Qiantang (modern-day Hangzhou) in 1822, Gan is also referred to as ‘Mr. Gan Qingshan’. When the handscroll was published (see JICSBS, Spring 1991, pp. 7–15), the translation of the various inscriptions was flawed, and Moss erroneously suggested that one colophon indicated that Gan Xuanwen had already retired by 1822. This is not demonstrated by the handscroll, although it is confirmed by the signature on one of his few dated snuff bottles in the collection of Princeton University (JICSBS, Spring 1991, p. 10, fig. 7). It is signed Gugang jushi (‘The Retired Scholar of Gugang’) and is dated to 1815; Gugang is Gan Xuanwen’s place of birth. This need not make Gan an elderly man at the time, since many people found an official career tiresome and retired early, but it does suggest that he is at least a mature adult, perhaps in his forties or fifties by 1815, and possibly older. The painting, produced probably between 1811 and 1814, is also from the hand of a fully mature artist, steeped in the literati tradition of painting and calligraphy, suggesting maturity.

Gugang is a small market-town on the banks of the alternate fork of the Pearl River from that on which Guangzhou stands, creating the island of land on the southern tip of which is Macau. Gugang is situated at about half the distance between Macau and Guangzhou, south and slightly to the west of Guangzhou.


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=1724&exhibition=12&ee_lang=eng


Lot 23 Lot 24 Lot 25 Lot 26 Lot 27 Lot 28 Lot 29


Hugh Moss |