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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 84 

Lot 84

Lot 84
Treasury 4, no. 521 (‘King Mu’s Eight Noble Steeds’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded foot rim; painted with a continuous composition of the Eight Steeds of King Mu (Mu Wang bajun 穆王八駿 ) grazing beneath two large trees in a grassy landscape, with a stream running into a pond and with distant hills beyond, inscribed in cursive script, gengzi zhongchun yiying Zhongliang erxiong daren qingwan 庚子仲春以應仲良二兄大人清玩 (‘Painted by Ye Zhongsan at the capital in the second month of spring in the year gengzi for the pure enjoyment of Zhongliang, the honourable second elder brother’), with one seal of the artist, huayin 畫印 (‘painting seal’), in negative seal script
Ye Zhongsan, Apricot Grove Studio, Chongwen district, Beijing, mid-spring, 1900
Height: 6.28 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.6/1.8 cm
Stopper: amethyst; vinyl collar

Sotheby’s, London, 2 July 1984, lot 293

Kleiner 1995, no. 405
Treasury 4, no. 521

British Museum, London, June–November 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997
Christie’s, London, 1999

King Mu (r. 956 – 918 bce), is the hero of what could be considered an epic tale (rare in Chinese culture) from at least the fourth century bce; one part of his saga has him harnessing eight mighty horses to travel about his realm on tours of inspection

Ye began to paint horses and donkeys in 1895; among them was a painting of a Mongolian pony beneath a pine tree, shown in profile and painted in the autumn of the year (see JICSBS, Autumn 1982, p. 17, fig. 25). The first appearance of eight horses was in 1896, inside a double crystal bottle (ibid., p. 18, figs. 26 and 26a), while an example similar to this was painted in the ninth month of 1896 (ibid., p. 18, figs. 29 and 29a).

It is intriguing to note that with these horses, Ye did not just repeat a composition. Although certain poses are repeated to some extent, the composition is changed each time in his paintings from the second half of the 1890s, and it is only in 1900 that he succumbs to exact repetition, faithfully copying this composition, from the mid-summer of the year (ibid., p. 27, figs. 60 and 60a). Up to and including this painting, however, they are different.

Although the colouring of the horses, particularly on one side, brightens up the palette considerably, this is another of his standard blue-palette paintings of the late 1890s and the turn of the century. The setting, even if not the main subject, owes a lot to Zhou Leyuan again, although the willow trees here, with their larger scale and more precisely painted foliage, are an innovation by Ye. The typical Zhou Leyuan version is copied more faithfully on Sale 8, lot 1125.

Zhongliang is unidentified; it is a common name.


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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