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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 56 

Lot 56

Lot 56
Treasury 4, no. 594 (‘Longevity for Uncle Sutang’)

Flawless crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding, slightly rounded foot rim; painted on one main side with an assemblage of partially damaged objects, one of which, a calligraphic specimen, is inscribed Gengxu zhongxia, Ma Shaoxuan 庚戌仲夏馬少宣 (‘Ma Shaoxuan, mid-spring of the year gengxu’), with one token seal of the artist in negative seal script, the other main side with four poetic inscriptions in regular, cursive, clerical, and seal scripts, preceded by Sutang shibo daren zheng 素堂世伯大人正 (‘For the approval of my father’s friend, the honourable uncle Sutang’), and followed by Li Ziyuan jing 李子元敬 (‘Respectfully presented by Li Ziyuan’) with one seal of the donor, Yuan, in negative seal script
Bottle: 1750–1910
Painting: Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing,
mid-spring, 1910
Height: 6.18 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.50/1.89 and 1.74 cm (oval)
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Wing Hing, Hong Kong (1988)

Orientations, Spring 1992, p. 70, fig. 18
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 337
JICSBS, Winter 1995, p. 13
Ma Zengshan 1997, pp. 80 and 81, figs. 80 and 81
Treasury 4, no. 594

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

For the meaning of groups of damaged documents of this kind, see Sale 4, lot 40, which is of a very similar grouping with many documents in common. The objects depicted here comprise collected literary works, calligraphic specimens, correspondence, a government communiqué and a folding-fan painting detached from its frame. Ma Shaoxuan’s own signature appears at the end of a calligraphic specimen from a famous essay by Wang Bo 王勃 (650–675) entitled ‘Preface Commemorating a Farewell Party Held at the Pavilion of the Prince of Teng in the Hong Prefecture on an Autumn Day’. The twenty-two characters (including those hidden by another sheet of paper) of this extract read

The rainbow has dissolved, the rain has cleared. Colour coruscates through the boulevards of the clouds. Descending rosy mists fly level with a lone duck; Shining autumn waters blend into the far-off sky.

The inscriptions on the other main side are written in four different scripts. At the top, in regular script, are two poetic lines apparently composed by Ma:

A hundred aspects of spring; a hundred moods;
In the depths of a small garden — peaceful and free from worldly dust.

Beneath that to the right, in cursive script is:

All kinds of phenomena appear when I flourish my brush,
But I laugh at the Prince of Teng for being too earnest.

The Prince of Teng, a son of the founder of the Tang dynasty, was apparently something of a painter. Although none of his works survives, he was said to excel at painting butterflies and was lauded ever after as the progenitor of all butterfly painting. Presumably this would involve the 'earnest', meticulous brushwork that is disdained in this couplet.

To the left of that, in clerical script, are four lines taken from different poems in the Ershisi shipin 二十四詩品 by Sikong Tu 司空徒 (837 – 908; see Sale 3, lot 51 for details and Sale 7, lot 165 for another work bearing the same four lines):

A rustic cottage in a verdant grove;
The essence of flowers and foliage.
It escapes formal resemblance;
The bright moon is my former life.

In seal script in the lower section are two poetic lines:

I think it’s because he roamed the imperial gardens in spring
That his brush tip still carries the fragrance of ink blossoms.

It is interesting to compare this example with Sale 4, lot 40, which is in studio condition. We may be certain that the colouring was originally identical here, but that constant exposure to snuff has altered the colours, particularly the brilliant vermilion, which has turned to a mottled russet colour, subduing the overall image. Apart from being an attractive transformation, as the browning of ancient silk or paper is with a hanging scroll, there is something rather appropriate about a painting of burnt, torn, or fragmentary documents, being affected in this way.


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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