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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part II  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 23 November 2010: Lot 49 

Lot 49


Lot 49
Treasury 4, no. 491

Longevity Peace and Good Fortune

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding, rounded footrim; painted on one main side with a group of auspicious objects (a natural rock sculpture, a vase with crackled surface containing two lingzhi, a tripod vessel containing blossoming prunus branches, and a Yixing teapot), inscribed in draft script ‘For the pure appreciation of Xiaoting, the honourable third elder brother, brought to him as a gift by his junior, Zhou Leyuan’, with one seal of the artist, yin (‘seal’), in positive seal script, the other main side with a boatman in a straw raincoat and hat, punting his boat into the shelter of a group of three willows at a reedy river bank, with distant mountains beyond
Zhou Leyuan, Studio of Lotus-root Fragrance, Xuannan, Beijing, 1890 or 1891
Height: 7.61 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.54 cm
Stopper: jadeite; plastic collar

Lot 49 Provenance:
Sotheby’s, London, 6 July 1965, lot 21
Hugh Moss
Kurt Graf Blucher von Wahlstatt (Count Blucher), 1971
Hugh M. Moss Ltd
Robert Hall (1985)

Moss 1971a, p. 140, no. 362
Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 3, p. 11, lower centre
Kleiner 1995, no. 386
Flyer, British Museum exhibition, 1995
Treasury 4, no. 491

British Museum, London, June–November 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

Lot 49 Commentary
Most of Zhou Leyuan’s undated works can be narrowed down to a period of no more than a year or two, and some even to a particular part of a given year. This painting can be confidently dated to either 1890 or 1891. It is one of the most compelling of all of Zhou’s later works, for several reasons. The painting is in studio condition; the bottle may never have been used at all for snuff. It is a combination of charming and superbly painted subjects. Above all, however, since we have come to expect nothing less than superb painting from Zhou Leyuan, and none of his mature works is less than artistically exciting, it is of an unusual form, giving the painting an extra dimension in terms of the art of inside-painted snuff bottles. The collection of auspicious objects is of Zhou’s usual, impeccable standard, maintained without diversion from his early period right through to the end of his career. As a subject, however, he seems to have set it aside in favour of others right at the end of his career. From 1893, of course, there is only the one landscape painting from the spring (Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 4, p. 71, no. 39), but even from 1892 the subject appears far less frequently than it did previously. Perhaps Zhou was losing interest in its potential for continued exploration at an artistic level, although there seems to be no sign of this in his latest known examples, and the subject should allow for endless re-interpretation. It must be that his clientele were commissioning this subject less frequently. To the end of his career Zhou was the only serious artist in this medium, and until the early 1890s, the only one even aspiring to serious art. Clients wanting an inside-painted snuff bottle of anything more than decorative merit could only have gone to him. After a decade of painting, it is possible that his clientele were well provided with this popular subject and needed a change. This could also account for the considerable widening of Zhou’s range of subject matter in the last part of his career.

The strange bronze tripod vessel in this still-life of auspicious objects is Zhou’s own invention. The extra handle here, set on the lower right, below the ‘heaven-soaring’ handle, is obviously an animal mask with a loose ring in its mouth. It is based on the taotie, standard on ancient bronzes, and on a vast quantity of later archaistic vessels. The rather comical beast here bears little resemblance to the frightening creatures of old, but this is partly because the painted loose ring gives the impression that it is smiling like a Cheshire cat, which it is not.

The delightful scene of the fisherman beneath the willows on the other side is, yet again, a completely new composition of the subject and what prompts us to believe that it might date from as early as the summer of 1890 is the combination of very detailed and dense foreground set against a very understated distance. For comparisons of the landscape as well as the still-life with other bottles by Zhou, please see the commentary on this bottle in Treasury 4.

Although we have surmised that most dedications on Zhou’s bottles are from his patrons to their friends, in this case Zhou probably addressed Xiaoting directly. Zhou identifies himself as a humble junior (di), a form used when modesty is appropriate. This does not preclude, however, the possibility of Xiaoting having commissioned the work. Zhou’s fame was obviously well established by the time he painted this bottle, and there is no reason why a patron should not commission a bottle directly from him for his own use, and request that Zhou sign it and dedicate it to him.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=853&exhibition=6&ee_lang=eng


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Hugh Moss |