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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 46 

Lot 46

Lot 46
Treasury 6, no. 1441 (‘Absent Scholars ‘)

Colourless glaze on porcelain with black pigment; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex foot rim; engraved on one main side with bamboo towering to four times the height of the open pavilion by which it grows, a low rocky area to the left of the area on which the pavilion stands and some stippling suggestive of water in the background, and on the other main side with the text of Wang Xizhi’s 王羲之 “Lanting Preface”, preceded by Ruichen [illegible] xiong daren yawan 瑞臣□兄大人雅玩 (‘for the elegant enjoyment of ‘Ruichen, a [?] elder brother’) and Shi Guangxu dingyou zhongchun 時光緒 丁酉仲春(‘The season is mid-spring of the dingyou year of the Guangxu era’), and followed by Xiaoxuan zeng, Yanbin Zhou Honglai ke yu Quantang keshe 肖軒贈鴈賓周鴻來刻於泉唐客舍 (‘A gift of Xiaoxuan, engraved by Yanbin, Zhou Honglai at a guest house in Quantang’), all in cursive script, with one seal of the artist, Zhou, in seal script, the engraving all filled with black pigment; the foot, lip, inner neck, and interior all glazed
Zhou Honglai, mid-spring, 1897
Height: 6.82 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.59/1.45 cm
Stopper: glass

Sotheby’s, New York, 17 September 1996, lot 224
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd, September 1996

Treasury 6, no. 1441

Christie’s, Los Angeles, October 2003                

Zhou Honglai (also known as Yanbin, and Yanbin jushi) was among the best and most influential of the micro-engravers of the late Qing period. Glass was his favoured material, but there are other engraved porcelain bottles by him that are of a similar form (see Sale 4, lot 26 and Jutheau 1980, p. 95, which is also illustrated in Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty 1978, no. 244). Zhou was a scholar who took to decorating snuff bottles; dated works by him recorded so far cover the period from 1895 to 1909. Because they sometimes include an era name along with the cyclical date, we have no trouble zeroing in on his active years.

Here Zhou locates himself at a guest house in Quantang in 1897; as we noted in Sale 4, lot 21, Quantang is an old name for Hangzhou.

As mentioned in Treasury 6, Ruichen was the courtesy name of Baoxi 寶熙 (1871 – 1931), a jinshi of 1892 who was a bibliophile and official in Beijing. However, Ruichen was also the name of Zou Ruichen 鄒瑞臣, a doctor who appears in the diary of the statesman and diplomat Guo Songtao 郭嵩燾 (1818 – 1891) along with a correspondent of Guo, Zhou Xiaoxuan 周肖軒. We know nothing of Zhou Xiaoxuan, but if he and Zou Ruichen both knew Guo Songtao, they may have been acquainted, and Zhou Xiaoxuan may well have commissioned Zhou Honglai to carve this bottle as a gift to Zou Ruichen.

Zhou Honglai’s rendition of the famous gathering at the Orchid Pavilion on this bottle calls to mind landscapes made famous by the Yuan-dynasty painter, Ni Zan 倪瓚(1306 – 1374), whose works are often designed with a sparse group of trees close to an open pavilion in the foreground and typically devoid of human presence, to show his disdain for human society and his penchant for cleanliness. Zhou’s choice in following Ni Zan’s sparse brushwork and composition no doubt enhances the intellectual flavour inherent in this bottle.

For a translation of the Preface, see Sale 1, lot 28.


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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