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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 4 

Lot 4

Lot 4
Treasury 4, no. 461 (‘Passionate Embrace ‘)

Crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and protruding flat foot; painted on one main side with a scholar seated at the window of his waterside country retreat with towering mountains beyond, and on the other with a young woman seated reading a book at a desk, with a vase of flowers beside her set on an incense stand, the two narrow sides with poetic inscriptions in cursive-draft script
Gan Xuanwen, Lingnan, 1810–1825
Height: 5.91 cm                         
Mouth/lip: 0.60/1.65 cm
Stopper: coral; gilt-bronze collar

Trojan Collection
Robert Hall (1993)

Hall 1992, no. 88
Kleiner 1995, no. 372
Treasury 4, no. 461

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

The two inscriptions are from the Yuan-dynasty play Xixiang ji 西廂記 (Story of the Western Wing). The full passage, often cited as language whose beauty more than compensates for the fact that it describes lovemaking, reads 軟玉溫香抱滿懷,春至人間花弄色,露滴牡丹開 (‘Soft jade, warm and fragrant, fills his embrace; when spring arrives in the human world, the flowers flash their charms; dew drips, the peony opens’). The bottle quotes only the first two lines.

There can be no doubt as to the authorship of this painting, even though there is no signature. It is typical of Gan’s landscape art in every way. It also has one of his characteristic trees, where trunk and branches, made up of dark but not black ink, are surrounded by a pale grey wash. This wash is often barely noticeable unless under magnification. Here, it is to the left of the house, behind the seated scholar.

Slight snuff wear has reduced the clarity of these washes on this bottle; they are so pale as to be the first to suffer from long contact with snuff. But they are still visible, as are Gan’s typical mountain peaks. The well-foliated nearby peaks in russet washes and dark modelling strokes are offset against distant peaks made up of a very pale, watery-blue wash, which has created its own intriguing inner texture as it dried on the surface of the crystal.

The side calligraphy, while in Gan’s style, is not as well controlled as some, but it may be either earlier work, or its faults may be the result of inscribing a rather awkward part of the bottle to access. So few of Gan’s bottles are dated that it is difficult to attempt a chronological survey.

Whenever this bottle was painted, it extends Gan’s oeuvre into the realm of large-scale figure painting. There are four known early-school portraits: this one, Sale 9, lot 3, a portrait of a European sailor holding a sword (JICSBS, Spring 1991, p. 16, fig. 22), and one in Hui, Polak, and Sin 1991, no. 167, also illustrated in JICSBS, Spring 1991, p. 20, figs. 52 and 53, a profile portrait of a brutally ugly and alarmingly well-built woman, unless burly sailors wore flowers in their hair in those days. The portrait of the European sailor with his sword can be attributable to Gan without hesitation on the strength of the landscape on the other main side. This seems to demonstrate beyond a doubt that Gan painted Western figures as well as the charming Chinese woman depicted on this example.


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=2267&exhibition=17&ee_lang=eng


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