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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 57 

Lot 57

Lot 57
Treasury 4, no. 626 (‘In His Uncle’s Footsteps’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip, countersunk inner lip, and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded foot rim; painted on one main side with two badgers in amorous play on a flowery ground, entitled in regular script, Shuanghuan tu 雙歡圖 (‘Picture of a Happy Pair’), the other main side inscribed in regular script with a poem, preceded by Jiachen zhongchun 甲辰仲春 (‘Mid-spring of the year jiachen’) and followed by Zuo yu Xuannan, Ma Shaoxian 作於宣南,馬紹先(‘Executed at Xuannan by Ma Shaoxian’), with one seal of the artist, Shao, in negative seal script
Ma Shaoxian, Xuannan, Beijing, mid-spring, 1904
Height: 5.69 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.49 cm
Stopper: glass; vinyl collar

Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 28 October 1992, lot 483

Kleiner 1995, no. 423
Treasury 4, no. 626

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

Ma Shaoxian was the son of Shaoxuan’s older brother Ma Guangyu 馬光宇. He was apparently trained by Ma Shaoxuan in the family business of snuff-bottle painting which, by the time Shaoxian began to paint, was already well established and successful. His first dated works are from 1899, although none of these are the tentative, hesitant works we would expect from a trainee, so he must have begun painting a year or two earlier at least. He also mastered the Ma-style calligraphic inscriptions in ranks of characters on the back of a subject, and probably wrote inscriptions to go under Ma Shaoxuan’s name, as well.

This example is early in Shaoxian’s career, and already his inscription is very much like Ma’s. Given a few more years of practice and an incentive to try hard, there is no reason why Shaoxian could not have done many of the inscriptions that currently go by his uncle’s name. See, for instance, Sale 7, lot 114, for an inscription that for most people would pass as coming from the hand of his uncle.

This subject was first painted by Ma Shaoxuan in 1897 (see Sale 8, lot 1135) and became a family studio standard, painted under both artist’s names from time to time.

This is not as accomplished a painting as Ma’s, and it seems unlikely that Shaoxian could have done the better work two years earlier. In particular it is noticeable in the shoulder of the lower badger, which is distorted here. Looking at Shaoxuan’s earlier version we can see why the nephew got it wrong, but on what may be Shaoxuan’s version, the same fat shoulder at this point looks more natural. In Chinese art, two badgers (huan 獾) symbolize marital happiness (huan 歡).

The poem on the other main side was composed by Han Yu 韓愈 (768–824).


The streets of Heaven after a shower are like kumis, rich and slippery;
The colour of grass can be seen from afar, but disappears upon approach.
Indeed this time of spring is the best of the whole year,
Much better than when misty willows fill the Imperial Metropolis.

The ‘streets of Heaven’ are the streets of the capital; tiny blades of grass create a stretch of green when seen from afar, but they are still too sparse to colour the ground when seen close up. In late spring, the scene of green willows in the mist gracing the greatest metropolis in the world in the ninth century may be expected to excite the ordinary poets, but Han Yu takes a contrarian’s position and states his preference for the wet transition from winter to early spring.


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=2259&exhibition=17&ee_lang=eng


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Hugh Moss |