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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 27 

Lot 27

 
   

Lot 27
Treasury 7, no. 1536

Zhuyin’s Prunus Poem

Reddish-brown lacquer on pewter; with a flat lip and protruding concave foot; engraved on one main side with branches of flowering prunus and on the other with a seven-character inscription in running script followed by the signature ‘Zhuyin’, with two seals of the poet, Zhu and yin, the foot engraved with the signature of the maker in seal script, Kuisheng
Lu Dong, Yangzhou, 1800–1850
Height: 7.39 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.50/1.49 cm
Stopper: pearl; glass collar

Lot 27 Provenance:
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1987)

Published:
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 265
Treasury 7, no. 1536

Exhibited:
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–January 1995

Lot 27 Commentary
Despite being a lacquer craftsman, Lu had achieved sufficient status as an artist in his own right to become part of the rather loose literati culture of mid-Qing Yangzhou. Traditional barriers between the scholar class and craftsmen or merchants had broken down considerably by that time, and what would have been unthinkable a few centuries earlier became normal as the merchant class acquired great wealth, fine homes, and fine educations, and immersed themselves in cultural activities. Lu demonstrates his knowledge of the culture in many of his engraved works, borrowing the styles of artists, some from his own Yangzhou area, and copying the poems of the literati. Another of the famous group of Yangzhou artists to which Hua Yan belonged (the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou) was Wang Shishen (1686–circa 1759). These simple branches of prunus blossom, one overlapping the other in an elegant calligraphic composition, might have come straight from one of Wang’s paintings. Standard to his paintings are broad-brush main branches in ink mixed with water, using a wet brush with great confidence and immediacy, set against darker, sharper small branches and twigs adorned with expressively outlined flowers and buds. The larger branches are dotted with moss depicted as dabs of darker ink, primarily as an abstract element rather than a pictorial one. Lu Dong has re-created Wang’s style with his ‘iron brush’: a series of strokes represents what would have been a single large brushstroke in the paintings to give the main branch its width and character, and a series of rapid incisions nearby represents the moss-dotting.

The single line describing the plum blossoms on the other side is signed by Zhuyin. It reads,

‘Blossoms fine, their shadows pure; no need to have a lot’.

Zhuyin (Bamboo Governor) is probably Yang Shixun, a Confucian scholar from the Chaozhou area who died in 1847. An 1867 printed edition of his collected poems, Zhewei yincao [Draft Chantings from the Tasteless End of the Sugar Cane] is extant; it contains 277 poems in two juan, plus 63 more poems in two supplementary juan, but we have been unable to locate a copy or find Yang’s poems quoted in any anthologies, so it is not possible to verify the source of the line on this bottle. However, the only other person we know with the hao Zhuyin was born after Lu Dong's death, so Yang Shixun is the most plausible author.

As a rule, Lu’s snuff bottles were not made on a pewter base, presumably because of the additional weight involved, even though the pewter is obviously quite thin here. This was a more usual base material for a small series of teapots imitating Yixing wares, with brown or reddish-brown lacquer on the pewter base (see, for instance, Wang Shixiang 1987, no. 151). Another possible factor limiting the use of pewter (or other metals) is that lacquer is far more compatible with wood; it bonds better with the grain as thin layers are added to each other in building up the depth of lacquer required. The result is a tough laminate that is firmly bonded to the wooden surface. On metal, where the two materials are not as compatible or as well bonded together, there is a greater tendency for the lacquer layer to expand or contract at a different rate from the metal ground, creating crizzling or flaking. There is a network of large-scale natural crackling of the lacquer surface here.

 

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