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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 43 

Lot 43

Lot 43
Treasury 4, no. 600 (‘Huang Chengyan Chanting’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded foot rim; painted on one main side with Huang Chengyan 黃承彥riding his donkey through the snow toward a stone bridge and a cliff from which a blossoming prunus tree grows, his attendant following him on foot and holding a large double gourd full of wine on a staff over his shoulder, inscribed in regular script Shaoxuan shi suo 少宣氏作 (‘Executed by Mr Shaoxuan’), with one seal of the artist, Shao, in negative seal script, the other main side inscribed with a poem in regular script followed by the signature Ma Shaoxuan, with one seal of the artist, Shaoxuan, in negative seal script
Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, 1910–1930
Height: 6 cm                        
Mouth/lip: .6/1.62 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Gerd Lester (1986)

Antiques World, September 1980, p. 67
Kleiner 1987, no. 292
Treasury 4, no. 600

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

This is another of Ma Shaoxuan’s masterpieces, with an exquisitely painted composition that is well thought out, individual, and impressive. Although again undated, this seems to fit into the general category of highly refined paintings represented by Sale 7, lot 165, where superb painting is combined with an unusual subject and where the calligraphy is particularly elegant, with thin, very carefully controlled strokes. Compare this donkey to that on Sale 4, lot 97, probably painted by a family member in 1903. The former is an outline filled with black ink with practically no variation to suggest texture or animal hair. Here, however, the donkey is treated in the same way as the clothing on Ma’s best portraits, with a far more intriguing and sensitive impression of texture. It seems that this sophisticated texturing and the more refined calligraphy, characterized by its thinner strokes and greater control of balance between characters, represents the fruits of Ma’s labour to master the portrait genre and impress his new contacts in lofty positions at court.

The poem is the one Huang Chengyan was intoning as he came to see his son-in-law Zhuge Liang in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. See Sale 3, lot 60 for a summary of the episode. (The lines in square brackets are omitted from the present bottle.)

All night long the north wind blew cold;
Thick clouds portending snow gather over ten thousand li.
In the vast sky, snow floats in confusion and
Transforms completely the old look of the streams and mountains.
Lifting my head to observe the heavens,
I suspect the jade dragons must be in earnest combat.
[Their scales falling off in great profusion
In an instant scatter all over the universe.]
As I cross the small bridge on the back of a donkey,
I sigh in my solitude over the thinness of the plum blossoms.


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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