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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 74 

Lot 74

Lot 74
Treasury 4, no. 641(‘Tan Xinpei as Deng Bodao’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded foot rim; painted on one main side with a portrait of Tan Xinpei 譚鑫培 in the role of Deng Bodao 鄧伯道, and on the other with a scene illustrating the play from which the role is taken, showing Deng Bodao and his sister-in-law taking flight for their lives; in their charge are Deng’s son and his brother’s son as they cross a rock bridge over a gorge, a waterfall behind, inscribed in regular script with the title Ji zi 寄子 (‘Leaving Behind a Son’), followed by Jiwei qiuri xue yu jingshi legu shanfang, Meng Zishou hui 己未秋日寫於京師樂古山房孟子受繪 (‘Painted at the capital by Meng Zishou on an autumn day in the year jiwei at the Mountain Abode for the Enjoyment of Antiquities’) with one seal of the artist, Zishou, in negative seal script
Meng Zishou, Beijing, autumn 1919
Height: 5.63 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.60/1.65 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Robert Hall (1986)

Kleiner 1987, no. 306
Treasury 4, 641

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

This is the last recorded bottle by Meng Zishou. It introduces a wholly new subject to the art form, indeed a new idea that should, perhaps, have occurred to the artists painting Beijing opera subjects well before this date. Opposite the portrait of Tan Xinpei playing a role is a painting illustrating a scene from the relevant opera.

The full title of the opera in this case is Sangyuan jizi 桑園寄子 (‘Leaving Behind a Son in a Mulberry Orchard’). The gist of the opera is adapted from the life story of Deng You 鄧攸 (whose courtesy name was Bodao) who lived during the Jin 晉dynasty (265–420). Deng had a younger brother who died early, leaving behind a wife and a young son. Being the elder brother, Deng Bodao took it upon himself to look after his sister-in-law and nephew. When an invasion forced the populace to flee, Deng Bodao sought safety with his own son, his sister-in-law, and his nephew. The sister-in-law became separated from the little group, so Deng had to take care of the two young boys alone. In the end he felt that with what limited energy he had left he could only take care of one child. Since his nephew was the only hope for preserving the bloodline of his deceased younger brother, he decided to save the nephew and abandon his own son. When the three came upon a mulberry orchard, Deng coaxed his son to climb a tree to pick mulberries and then tied him to the tree to stop him from following them.

After leaving the wailing child with a piece of cloth inscribed with his name, he continued on his way with his nephew on his back. Fortunately, not long afterwards Deng’s sister-in-law found her way to the mulberry orchard, heard the child’s cries, and rescued him. In the end, the two groups of refugees were reunited.

The portrait of Tan Xinpei here is one of Meng’s finest; he obviously approached it as a proper portrait of the man as well as depicting him in a specific role, as opposed to the rather perfunctory portraiture of Sale 5, lot 124. It is a sensitive portrayal, superbly painted, that is instantly recognizable as Tan. It is also very well composed, keeping the basic formal elements that make up the composition simple, so that they also form a powerful abstract function. The black hat, the red sash around it, the white beard and cloth across his hand, the green jacket, the blue trousers, and the paler blue cuffs are all separate elements of this formal dance that is so well maintained.


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=2044&exhibition=14&ee_lang=eng


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