Meriem Collection Sale One / 642

The Meriem Collection. Lot 642

Previous | Thumbnails | Next
Click on the image below for a close up
 

AN INSIDE-PAINTED “BEIJING OPERA” SNUFF BOTTLE
BOTTLE: 1740-1810; DECORATION BY WANG XISAN, DATED TO THE MIDSUMMER
OF THE JIYOU YEAR, CORRESPONDING TO 1969
Of rounded-rectangular form with flat lip and recessed foot
surrounded by a footrim, one side finely painted with the
Communist historical figure Li Yu with a long chain draped
around his neck standing beside his adopted daughter Li Tiemei
in front of a brick wall, with another in the distance topped by
barbed wire, inscribed “Written in mid-summer (fifth month) in
the jiyou year (corresponding to 1969), Li Yu and Tie Mei in
‘Battle on the Execution Ground’”, with three seals, Hongdeng ji
(“Tale of the Red Lantern”), Wang and one identifying Wang’s
Ji School of painting, the other side with an inscription in
regular script Geming xiandai jingju yangbanxi ziyi (“One of the
classic battles in modern Beijing opera”), with three seals, geming
(“revolution”), Wang’s Ji School seal, and yin (“seal”), the
narrow sides carved with mask-and-chain handles, glass stopper
with vinyl collar
25 in. (6.5 cm.) high
$12,000-14,000

P R O V E N A N C E :
Hugh Moss Ltd.
E X H I B I T E D :
Canadian Craft Museum, Vancouver, 1992.

On the side painted with the two figures, the inscription can be
translated as:

“Along ten thousand miles of the Yangtze River
Waves tumble and roll
The red lantern of the Revolution
Shall be passed along.”

The allegorical text on the reverse side of the bottle outlines Li Yu and
his daughter Li Tiemei’s patriotic feats during the Japanese invasion in
the 1940’s, which were immortalized in the modern Communist
propaganda Beijing opera Hongdeng Ji, (“Tale of the Red Lantern”).
In the play, Li Yu, a railroad worker and a member of the underground
Communist movement, was assigned to deliver a secret telegram
through the underground organization to resistance fighters in the
Northern mountains. Because of a traitor, Li Yu was arrested by the
Japanese army before he could deliver the message. In light of the
urgency, Li Yu’s elderly mother tells all to his previously uninformed
daughter. Fuelled by anger and love for her country, Tiemei decides to
continue her father’s work, but unfortunately soon both she and Li Yu’s
mother were also arrested by the Japanese. Hatoyama, the lieutenant in
charge, tortured and sweet-talked the Li’s in hope of Tiemei’s
resignation and cooperation, but all to no effect. In the end, Hatoyama
ordered the execution of Li Yu and his mother, but Tiemei still refused to
co-operate. Hatoyama then let Li Tiemei go, and sent spies to trail her to
obtain the secret message. Luckily, Li Yu’s mother had revealed to her
the secret location of the communication headquarters just before they
were arrested. With the help of her neighbors, Li Tiemei was able to
elude her followers and find the headquarters, ultimately leading to the
resistance fighters’ victory in eliminating Hatoyama’s army in Beishan.

This extraordinary documentary bottle by Wang Xisan was painted just
before he was sent from Beijing in 1967 at the beginning of the Cultural
Revolution. Sent to Hebei, and needing to keep his continuing artistic
skills concealed, he adopted a new seal which he later used to designate
the Ji School he founded in Hebei. The use of the anonymous seal yin
(seal) served a similar purpose in his identity, and all that refers to the
artist himself is the common family name “Wang”.

The bottle, with its multiple ring handles running down each narrow
side, was probably made at the Court during the Qianlong period. See
an amber-brown glass bottle with very similar ring handles, illustrated in
Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, Vol. 5, Glass,
no. 784.
1740–1810

The Meriem Collection. Lot 642

Hugh Moss |