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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 37 

Lot 37

Lot 37
Treasury 4, no. 442 (‘The Poetry Competition’)

Flawless crystal and ink; with a flat, slightly irregular lip, and flat foot; painted on both main sides with poetic inscriptions, one followed by Wuchen chunri binglu 戊辰春日并錄 (‘Recorded on a spring day in the year wuchen’ and the signature Banshan 半山, the other followed by the signature 雲峰Yunfeng, with one seal of the artist, Yunfeng, in black ink and positive seal script, and an added inscription Gengwu dongyue Xisan buxiu 庚午冬月習三補修 (‘Restored by Xisan in the eleventh month of the year gengwu’), all in regular script
Bottle: 1750–1808
Painting: Yiru jushi, attributable to Beijing, 1808
Colophon: Wang Xisan, eleventh month, 1990
Height: 5.9 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.62 and 0.52 cm (oval)/ 1.90 cm. (widest point)
Stopper: amethyst; coral finial; vinyl collar

Kaynes-Klitz Collection
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 30 October 1990, lot 199

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 298
Treasury 4, no. 442

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

When this example was acquired for the Bloch Collection in October 1990,
Wang Xisan, the leading modern inside-painted artist, agreed to restore the partially worn inscription. The original state can be seen in the Sotheby’s catalogue illustration.

The text on the side with Wang’s additional inscription is in eight four-syllable lines; lines 2 and 4 rhyme with each other; lines 6 and 8 rhyme with each other.

The Bodhi tree—there is no tree;
The bright mirror—there is no stand.
From the beginning, you are complete;
How can there be dust [on the mirror]?
Languages and writing
Are but left-over lint.
Your inner and outer are quiet and clear:
The void [within] and the Great Emptiness.

The poem consists of quotations and near-quotations from centuries of Buddhist and even Neo-Confucian philosophy. Suffice it to say that the first two lines, an oft-quoted set phrase from at least the Song dynasty, enjoin us not to cling to concepts. One should not be fixated on the Bodhi tree under which the historical Buddha achieved enlightenment; the mirror of the mind need not be cleaned of dust so that it can reflect reality perfectly because the mind itself is only a mental construct. Language, especially written language, is only the trace of what has already gone away, and if one can achieve perfect equanimity and empty oneself, one becomes equal to the universe itself (the Great Emptiness). This last point is an idea from Ming and Qing philosophical discourse: the enlightened mind and the entire world are as one, tong ti 同體.

On the side signed Banshan, the poem is the same one the artist used on Sale 2, lot 124 and Sale 7, lot 77:

Brought from beyond the seas, this herb of the immortals from beyond the passes:
Its flavour in the bottle can be endlessly praised.
At the early court, one sniff clears the mind and eyes;
On a night journey, a tiny scoop will protect one from the pestilential vapours.

Wang Xisan’s restoration here is an astonishing feat of steady-handed confidence. The majority of the characters needed some touching up, and some were almost completely worn away, and yet Wang has managed to create an impression of continuity in ink tones, line, and energy. Under magnification one can see where he has added ink and the extraordinary skill with which he did it.


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=2085&exhibition=14&ee_lang=eng


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