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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 3 

Lot 3

Lot 3
Treasury 4, no. 462 (‘Portrait of a Western Woman ‘)

Crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and protruding concave foot surrounded by a flat foot rim; painted on one main side with the bust of a Caucasian woman, her curly dark hair tied with a ribbon with flowers woven into it, the other main side with a couplet in clerical script followed by the signature Jiren 吉人 in regular script
Lingnan school, attributable to Gan Xuanwen 甘烜文, 1810–1825
Height: 6.5 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.58/1.58 cm
Stopper: jadeite; brass collar

Christie’s, New York, 29 November 1990, lot 117

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 292
Treasury 4, no. 462

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

There are four known portraits either by or attributable to Gan Xuanwen. This one is sensibly attributable to Gan, although not without any shadow of doubt, based on similarities in style and brushwork to a portrait of a European sailor that is painted on a bottle with an unquestionable Gan Xuanwen landscape. Were it not for this link, we might be more puzzled by this bottle. The signature is not known to have been used elsewhere by Gan, but Jiren is a common name and courtesy name and could belong to whoever authored the inscription.

Other reasons to attribute these two portraits to Gan are the shape of the crystal bottle, the clerical-script calligraphy, and the encomium on snuff, all of which are typical of Gan. He was obviously a keen snuff-taker and connoisseur, and presumably a collector of snuff bottles as well as a painter of them, since most wealthy literati who snuffed also collected a number of bottles, often received as gifts. Many of his inscriptions (whether he composed them himself or not) refer to the snuff bottles and the snuff in which he clearly took such delight. This one is no exception:

The jade bottle contains a blizzard of brown snow;
Wisdom will come with its wondrous fragrant heart.

‘Jade’ here functions as a stock epithet indicating a precious bottle made of fine material. The yellow-brown snow is, of course, snuff. The Buddhist term for ‘wisdom’ used in the second line refers to the fifth of the five faculties that form the roots of enlightenment (the others are belief, persistence, mindfulness, and concentration). ‘Wondrous fragrant heart’ is a bit more difficult to pin down, but here the idea might be that wisdom will arise in the heart-mind (xin 心) that has become fragrant because of the snuff.


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=2082&exhibition=14&ee_lang=eng


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