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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1069 

Lot 1069
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Lot 1069
Treasury 4, no. 451 (‘Attaining the Highest Rank’)

Crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and slightly recessed, convex, slightly rounded rectangular foot surrounded by a protruding flat, rounded rectangular foot rim; painted on one main side with an adult Buddhist lion playing with its four cubs, and on the other main side with a poem in cursive script with two token seals of the artist
Gan Xuanwen 甘烜文, Lingnan, 1810–1825
Height: 6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.62/1.72 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Unrecorded Hong Kong dealer (between 1950 and 1962)
William Bruce (by inheritance from his father)
Robert Kleiner

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 294
Treasury 4, no. 451

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
Christie’s, London, 1999

Different compositions of this subject were painted at least six times by Gan Xuanwen, suggesting it was a favourite, perhaps because of the symbolism.
Although the frolicking beasts look rather like Pekinese dogs and have usually been described as such whenever published, the symbolism suggests that they are intended as lions (in this case represented presumably by the Buddhist lion, which is often depicted with a feathery tail).

Whether Gan produced his bottles as gifts or was paid in some way for doing so is less certain, since we have no direct evidence that Gan accepted commissions.
The sheer body of works from this early artist spreading over a period of at least eight years, and much more likely twenty years or more, suggests that he did paint professionally, to whatever extent such professional exchanges were cloaked in literati pretensions of loftiness and payment disguised in some acceptable form of recompense. But if he was a professional artist, even if only occasionally, he was never corrupted by the marketplace. One indication of this may be found in the fact that all of Gan’s known extant works are in crystal. If Gan were commercially inclined, like so many artists who came after him, he would have been likely to produce both crystal and glass bottles to vary his price range.

The inscription reads:


All my life I have been wandering about,
Never able to cultivate any leisurely pursuits.
The hills and streams will amuse me in my old age,
Pipes and strings have wearied me on my outings.
When I was moved by things, I was wont to let myself go;
Now that I am free of affairs, I have achieved unsullied seclusion.
This gathering is indeed a happy one,
We face the cups floating on a nine-curve channel.

This is an odd poem for a snuff bottle, since it appears to be tied to a specific occasion, a wine-and-poetry party where cups of wine were floated on a twisting channel of flowing water. This was an elegant custom from early medieval China that was continued down through the Qing dynasty. The last line could be a literal description or a stylish pretence. In any case, whether or not Gan Xuanwen is the author of this poem, its inscription on the bottle seems to mark it as a commemoration of someone’s retirement.

As a retirement poem, this is also somewhat non-traditional. The speaker does not complain of his hard life on the road or in the office as an official; instead, he seems to have been wearied by the music of constant banquets and by his own unrestrained behaviour. Whether he was official or a merchant, high living seems to have been too much for him to bear much longer.

Like Sale 2, lot 149, this is another of the examples of Gan’s works that are in studio condition, apparently never having been filled with snuff. Of all six known examples of the subject, it is the only one where the brushwork and colouring of the original are clearly visible. The rest appear to have been painted in sepia tones, but in reality were probably coloured like this one originally.


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=1864&exhibition=13&ee_lang=eng


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