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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 6 

Lot 6

Lot 6
Treasury 4, no. 546 (‘Longevity and Seventeen Prunus Trees ‘)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded foot rim; painted on one main side with a landscape in which two scholars sit at the window of a country residence built on stilts in the shallows of a river, inscribed in draft script You’an renxiong daren qingwan, Erzhong 佑安仁兄大人清玩,二仲 (‘[Executed for] the pure enjoyment of the honourable You’an by Erzhong’), followed by one seal of the artist, Ding, in negative seal script, the other main side with Shou Lao, the God of Longevity, reclining against his recumbent deer with a vessel, possibly for wine, beside him, a ladle resting across its top, inscribed in seal script with the title Wuliang shou 無量壽 (‘Longevity beyond measure’), and in regular-cursive script, Dingyou chuxia oulin Yuan ren baimiao huafa yu Shiqishu meihua shanfang nanchuang xia, Erzhong 丁酉初夏偶臨元人白描畫法於十七樹某花山房南窗下,二仲 (‘In the early summer of the year dingyou Erzhong happened to copy the outline (baimiao) method of the Yuan masters, at the south window of the Mountain Abode of Seventeen Prunus Trees’), with seals of the artist, Ding in positive seal script and Ding in negative regular script preceding the title, Erzhong and yin 印 (‘seal’), in negative seal script following the inscription, and taigu 太古 (‘High antiquity’) to the right of Shoulao
Ding Erzhong, Mountain Abode of Seventeen Prunus Trees, Xuannan, Beijing, summer, 1897
Height: 6.09 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.55 cm
Stopper: amethyst; vinyl collar

Sotheby’s, New York, 3 November 1982, lot 276
Eric Young
Sotheby’s, London, 3 March 1987, lot 148

Arts of Asia, July–August 1987, p.119
Kleiner 1987, no. 256
Kleine Schätze aus China 1993, p. 10
Treasury 4, no. 546

Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

In this second version of Shou Lao painted in 1897 (see also Sale 4, lot 43), Ding credits a Yuan master for his inspiration, whereas the other one was taken from a family painting by Gai Qi 改琦 (1773 – 1828), hence, presumably, the great differences between them. However, although we may assume that the Gai Qi painting was followed reasonably accurately, references to Song or Yuan masters need not imply copying a specific painting. Here, the monochrome painting is one of Ding’s most unusual figure subjects and the only one where he has used the device of creating a white space (the face) by filling in a background wash around it. This has allowed him to provide the head with so faint an outline that it is almost invisible without a magnifying glass, particularly over the crown.

The superbly painted landscape of the other side is a transitional one between the style of Sale 2, lot 54 and the much more abstract Sale 9, lot 193. Although the style of painting is similar here to the first, with its more integrated linear approach where lines blend into each other to form the mass of the mountains, the composition is becoming much more abstract. Ding has now broken down his mountain forms into balancing elements of dark and light, large and small. This is particularly noticeable in the use of the smaller rounded rocks that are dotted about the landscape more as a formal element than as small boulders, although they serve as both.

In what is essentially a monochrome landscape painting, despite the coloured robes of the figures, Ding has added one small wash of blue high on the left-hand side of the group of trees above the red-robed figure. It cannot have been accidental and is so strange an anomaly in an otherwise ink landscape that it can only represent breath-taking confidence.

There appears here the studio name Shiqishu meihua shanfang, (Mountain Abode of Seventeen Prunus Trees), which was first used by Ding in the previous year, 1896. It seems that Ding kept this studio name when he moved from Beijing to Nanjing, probably in 1900, since he continued to use it on bottles as late as 1906.


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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