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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 70 

Lot 70

Lot 70
Treasury 5, no. 1060 (‘Skiff in a Bottle’)

Colourless glass; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded foot rim; engraved on the inside on one main side with an ancient pine tree, with the moon and clouds beyond, inscribed in draft script, Laolong qingchu yemingzhu 老龍擎出夜明珠 (‘An old dragon lifting up a night-shining pearl’), the other main side with a fisherman with a rod in one boat, and two others with nets in a second, in a river landscape with a foreground group of trees partially hiding two small houses, inscribed in draft script, Jiachen dong yue fang Nantian laoren yi, Wang Junlin ke 甲辰冬月仿南田老人意王俊林刻 (‘In the eleventh month of the year jiachen, Wang Junlin did the engraving by following the idea of Nantian laoren’)
Bottle: Boshan 博山, 1900 – 1904
Decoration: Wang Junlin, winter1904
Height: 6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.69/1.50 cm
Stopper: glass; silver collar

Arthur Gadsby (1980)
Belfort Collection (1986)

Hong Kong Museum of Art 1977, no. 50
JICSBS, March 1979, p. 19, fig. 23
Kleiner 1987, no. 137
Treasury 5, no. 1060

Hong Kong Museum of Art, October – November 1977
L’Arcade Chaumet, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, June – August 1982
Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May – June 1993

It is refreshing to experience such confidence in attributing a glass bottle to Boshan. The form, detailing and quality of the glass here all correspond perfectly to the large series of glass bottles made at Boshan between the 1890s and the 1920s and used by inside-painting artists. On its last outing this example was catalogued as an earlier bottle, but it must have been made at approximately the same time as the decoration – probably shortly before 1904 – which we can safely assume is the correct interpretation of the cyclical date.

We may also be sure that this extraordinary bottle has been inside-engraved using a diamond point, a feature that is certainly very rare, if not unique to this bottle. It is interesting that once the technique had been developed, it was not employed more often. Securing a diamond point to a tool that could be inserted through the neck into the bottle would not have presented great problems, and the technique of working on the inside of a bottle with bamboo pens was both well known and extremely popular at about this time. However, the difficulty of exerting sufficient pressure to achieve inside-engraving is reflected in the mediocre results achieved here. Such obstacles did not exist, of course, when painting the inside of a bottle, since only minimal pressure was required.

Wang Junlin is recorded nowhere else, but from this single work it would appear either that he was a rather pedestrian artist, or he found the challenge of working on the inside of a bottle with a diamond-point overwhelming.

Nantian is the painter Yun Shouping 惲壽平 (1633 – 1690).

‘Like an old dragon lifting up a night-shining pearl’ is a simile often used in duilian 對聯 (‘couplets’). An oft-repeated story has two men out for a stroll in the evening. One of them responds to the scene with Xiao zhao chen xing, si xianren saxia jin qizi 小沼沉星,似仙人撒下金棋子 (‘A small pond in which the stars are sunken: like an immortal sweeping away golden go pieces’); his companion takes up the challenge and answers with Gusong gua yue, ru laolong qingchu yemingzhu 古松掛月,如老龍擎出夜明珠 (‘An old pine in which the moon hangs: like an old dragon holding up a night-shining pearl’). By matching the first line with a second line that is grammatically parallel and exhibits the proper meter (as defined by the tones of the syllables), the second man has shown his quick wit and erudition.


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.


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