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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 30 

Lot 30


Lot 30
Treasury 5, no. 1059

Emerging Star

Translucent white glass; with a concave lip and recessed, flat, bulging-rectangular foot; engraved on one main side with a perforated, natural rock sculpture set in a grassy bank with three fan-tailed goldfish swimming in a pond beside it and leafy branches above, and on the other with a group of auspicious objects (a perforated natural rock sculpture, a vase decorated with flowering peonies, containing lingzhi and blossoming prunus branches, a flared, rectangular planter with calamus grass, and a teapot, probably of Yixing pottery), inscribed in draft script, ‘Painted by Ding Jun, [alias] Qiansheng in an autumn month of the year dinghai, with one seal of the artist in negative seal script, Ding
Bottle: 1710–1780
Decoration: Ding Jun, 1887
Height: 7.31 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.65 cm
Stopper: coral, carved as a formalized lingzhi head; horn collar

Lot 30 Provenance:
Phillip Allen
Robert Kleiner (1997)

Treasury 5, no. 1059

Lot 30 Commentary
Although the name of Ding Jun appears on none of the other engraved bottles we have succeeded in locating, many of the illustrations in our records of inscriptions on finely-engraved bottles are of insufficiently high quality to enable us to read them. Ding Jun (zi Qiansheng), born in 1829, was a native of Nanchang in Jiangxi province. His name in most sources, including the Qing shilu [Actual records of the Qing dynasty], is written Jun 峻 instead of the Jun 竣 we have on this bottle, but there seems to be little reason to suspect we are not talking about the same person. His mentor, Peng Yulin (1816–1890), who commanded the central Yangzi fleet against the Taiping rebels in the mid-century, was a noted painter of plum blossoms, and Ding Jun is said to have been good at painting horses. The two men would exemplify the man of action who is also a man of art. Ding was rumoured to have been involved once with pirates or secret societies, and it is interesting to note that his zi, Qiansheng, means ‘stealthily multiplying', and is a term often applied to brigands. Equally intriguing, when Ding Jun was surveillance commissioner of Anhui province (he was acting surveillance commissioner there in 1885; see Chen and Zhao 1992, p. 694), he would sit on a heavy iron chair every day, concentrate his spirit, and levitate himself and the chair (Li, Xu, and Shi 1997, p. 818).

The Qing shilu tells us that Ding Jun was a prefect in Anhui earlier (in 1859) and was made surveillance commissioner of Zhejiang later (in the seventh month of 1896); biographical dictionaries mention only the latter posting. In any case, this raises the question of whether his assignments obliged him to travel to Beijing from time to time, thus allowing him to become aware of the enormous popularity of the inside painted bottles of Zhou Leyuan in the capital from the early 1880s onwards. The fanciful rocks depicted here are of the style that appealed to a number of nineteenth-century painters, from whom both Zhou and Ding could have taken inspiration. If, as a painter of horses, Ding succeeded in passing on the tradition of the Yuan painter Zhao Mengfu, as is commonly said, he must have been very much in touch with the art world of his own time as well as having some kind of access to the heritage of the past. But the remarkable similarity of both subjects on this bottle to the works of Zhou Leyuan suggest that Ding’s inspiration came from the Beijing inside painter. In the still-life scene not only are the objects depicted identical to the oft-painted subject by Zhou, but so is the composition, with the vertically aligned rock in front, partially obscuring the planters and teapot. Greater liberty has been taken with the scene of goldfish, where Zhou’s rocky bank has been transformed into a standing strange stone, but the three goldfish beneath a rock, with foliage growing nearby remains very much a Zhou Leyuan composition.

Ding was a supremely confident engraver, and it seems unlikely that he produced one bottle only, and that one to such an extraordinary standard. Seeking out more of Ding’s works will give us something to anticipate as we approach the next dealer’s shop.


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Hugh Moss |