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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1009 

Lot 1009
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Lot 1009
Treasury 4, no. 487 (‘Returning Within the Walls’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded foot rim; painted on one main side with a group of auspicious objects (a natural rock sculpture, a square vessel with crackled surface containing calamus, a jardinière containing a miniature prunus tree, and a Yixing teapot), inscribed in cursive script Yaodong qixiong daren qingwan 耀東七兄大人清玩 (‘For the pure enjoyment of Yaodong, the honourable seventh elder brother)’ the other main side with a fisherman in a straw raincoat and hat, his catch hanging from his fishing pole across his shoulder, standing on his boat which is moored beneath a clump of willow trees outside the entrance way to a fortified city, inscribed in draft script with the title Lutan guiyu 蘆灘歸漁 (‘Returning Fisherman in the Reedy Shallows’) followed by the signature Leyuan Zhou shi zuo 樂元周氏作 (‘Executed by Leyuan of the Zhou family’) and one seal of the artist, yuan yin (‘seal of yuan’) in negative seal script
Zhou Leyuan, Studio of Lotus-root Fragrance, Xuannan, Beijing, circa mid-1890
Height: 6.33 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.56/1.59 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Emily Byrne Curtis
Robert Kleiner (1986)

Kleiner 1987, no. 265
Treasury 4, no. 487

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

We date this with some certainty to 1890 and believe it to have been a work not far removed in time from Sale 1, lot 91. The landscape is unusual insofar as Zhou’s standard image of a fisherman in a boat is enhanced by the addition of the walls of a fortified city. It has the same extraordinary technical control combined with very subtle shading; it has the signature style, Leyuan Zhou shi, which appears most often in 1890 (particularly in the summer months); and has very similar calligraphy, on a slightly smaller scale than usual to balance the subtlety of the washes. It seems to represent, as did Sale 1, lot 91, a period in his life when he was inspired to excel even his own consistently high standards.

Although the subject on the other side is a standard one, it is again an unusual composition painted with extraordinary delicacy and subtlety. The teapot is of a standard Yixing pottery shape and could hardly be read as anything but a Yixing teapot although, instead of being coloured in the standard colour for this ware, it is washed only in a very light, beautifully modulated wash of grey ink. There is so slight a hint of blue in the jardinière with the prunus that it is barely visible, and the apparently ceramic fangding 方鼎with calamus grass is simply painted with lines and no washes at all. The rock itself is unusual in that it divides into two distinct halves joined only at the top by the most tenuous of links across its centre.

It is another masterpiece where an enlargement of the painting, divorced from the confines of the bottle form, could speak for itself. To enlarge the painting and exclude the bottle is always an interesting exercise with inside-painted bottles. It reveals immediately which should be taken seriously as painting and which are just decorative. None of the more decorative commercial and repetitive works by the artists who followed Zhou Leyuan survive the process as serious art. Isolate Zhou’s paintings from the bottles and imagine his work as a series of album leaves from the late nineteenth century, however, and they can stand with the best. There are very few artists for whom this claim can be made across the entirety of their works, and only a few more for whom it is occasionally true of their finest works.

This bottle is dedicated to someone who used the name Yaodong; meaning something like ‘make the East shine in glory’, Yaodong was a fairly common name from the late Qing on, but most people who used it were too young for this bottle. There is one individual who was old enough to be a possible match for the dedication, however: Shi Rong 世榮 (1860 – 1929). A Mongol from the Shenyang area, he became a provincial graduate in 1893 and a jinshi in 1895. His courtesy name (zi) was Renfu 仁甫and Yaodong was his sobriquet (hao). His highest office under the Qing was academician expositor-in-waiting; after the 1911 revolution, he returned to the Northeast to be an educator and scholar of some note. Further research may confirm or eliminate him as the dedicatee of this bottle.


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=1830&exhibition=13&ee_lang=eng


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