Lot 9 Lot 90 Lot 90 Lot 90 Lot 90 Lot 90 Lot 90

photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 90 

Lot 90

Lot 90
Treasury 4, no. 612 (‘Scholars Enjoying a Ripe Old Age’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with a landscape composition with four scholars strolling beneath a grove of trees beside a river, two of them about to cross a stone bridge spanning the river, with a waterfall and an open thatched pavilion set on a rocky promontory beyond, the other main side with a cat sitting on the trunk of a tree looking up at a butterfly, a convoluted rock at the base of the tree beside grass and foliage, inscribed in draft script ‘Executed at the capital by Yan Yutian in the year yiwei’, with two seals of the artist, Yu and tian, both in negative seal script, one slightly overlapping the other
Yan Yutian, Chongwen district, Beijing, 1895
Height: 6.1 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.58/1.58 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Hugh Moss (acquired prior to 1966)
Heflene Collection
Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
Kurt Graf Blucher von Wahlstatt (Count Blucher)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1985)

Moss 1971a, no. 387
Treasury 4, no. 612

Christie's, London, 1999 

In early 1974, Ye Bengqi told Hugh Moss that he remembered Yan Yutian, who lived and painted in the same Chongwen district of Beijing as the Ye family. He recalled that he was a Manchu. Other than that, we must fall back upon the surviving works to learn anything else about the artist, as we must with so many of the artists in this field.

Yan’s earliest known work is a single painting from 1894. It is far more hesitant than his mature style from 1895 onwards, with poor calligraphy, and is obviously a rather tentative training exercise. It was photographed by Moss in the Bob Stevens Collection in 1965, but does not seem to have survived in the collection long enough to have been published in his book. We are fortunate in knowing about it, however, since it clears up an interesting problem about his earliest works. There are several bottles bearing a cyclical date corresponding to 1888 that are obviously by Yan Yutian. Most of them have spurious Zhou Leyuan signatures on them, but one is signed correctly by Yan. Without the properly dated bottle from the Stevens Collection, we might have believed that Yan started painting in 1888, but with it we can be certain that the earlier dated bottles are wrongly dated. The style is far more sophisticated than the one known bottle from 1894, and clearly post-dates it. Why Yan should have chosen to date a bottle falsely is anybody’s guess, but it would not be the only time in the field of inside-painted snuff bottles. It appears that several of the commercial artists in this medium were perfectly willing to paint whatever would sell best, and if this meant borrowing popular subjects from other artists, wrongly dating their works, or even using spurious signatures, that does not seem to have posed a problem.

Yan Yutian’s output is sporadic, to say the least. After his single bottle from 1894, there are over sixty from 1895, twenty-five from 1898, thirteen from 1907, one from 1918, one from 1919 and nothing at all dated in between. There are also over forty undated bottles recorded. Yan’s quality and style are reasonably consistent throughout his career, which does not suggest long breaks. Indeed, the only thing that differs significantly between 1895 and 1918 is the writing of the signature. The central element of the character yan is written with three distinct horizontal strokes in the earlier works, while it is run together cursively in the example dated 1918. Although he painted some rather sloppy works once in a while, mostly undated, Yan’s single work from 1918 is one of his best, and in a style almost indistinguishable from those dated to 1895, so whatever the reason for the apparent gaps in production, he does not seem to have fallen out of practice.

The orange tinge to the inside of the bottle is due to the snuff it contained.


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=1827&exhibition=12&ee_lang=eng


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