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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 48 

Lot 48

Lot 48
Treasury 4, no. 519

An inside-painted glass ‘Liaozhai zhiyi’ snuff bottle

(‘Fragrant Jade and Crimson Snow’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed, convex foot surrounded by a protruding, rounded footrim; painted on each main side with an illustration from the Liaozhai zhiyi (‘Strange Tales Recorded by the Studio of Idle Talk’), one showing Mr. Huang and Jiangxue reminiscing about Xiangyu in a garden setting with a naidong tree, a rocky outcrop, a bush of flowering peonies, a bamboo fence and another natural rock formation, inscribed in clerical script with the title ‘Xiangyu,’ the other main side showing the bridegroom (in 'The Bridegroom') being enticed by a ghost to go home with her, the two set on a plank bridge across a stream with a country residence behind them, with a torrent and distant trees, inscribed in clerical script with the title ‘The Bridegroom,’ followed in draft script by ‘Executed by Ye Zhongsan in the first month of autumn in the year jihai,’ with one seal of the artist, yin (‘seal’), in negative seal script
Ye Zhongsan, the Apricot Grove Studio, Chongwen district, Beijing, first autumn month, 1899
Height: 6.36 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.61/1.83 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Lot 48 Provenance:
Unrecorded source (prior to 1966)
Hugh Moss
Robert Hall (1984)

JICSBS, Autumn, 1982, p. 25, figs. 57 and 57a
Kleiner 1995, no. 404
Treasury 4, no. 519

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

Lot 48 Commentary
From 1897 until the turn of the century, Ye Zhongsan transformed Zhou’s distinctive ‘blue palette’ paintings into his own style. Although the various elements here can be recognized as originating with Zhou, such as the river snaking between grassy banks beyond the figures on the bridge, the grassy bank immediately behind them, the rocky outcrop, and the foliage on the trees, the style is now Ye’s. Zhou’s style has been absorbed and re-expressed in a distinctive and quite different manner that is Ye’s alone. This is one of the most delightful of his blue-palette bottles. It also represents a new source of inspiration discovered in 1899 which was to inform much of his output from then onwards, the Liaozhai zhiyi. This was a popular classic of love and ghost stories by Pu Songling (1640–1715). These stories, as illustrated by Ye family painted snuff bottles, were reviewed by Virginia Mead in ‘A Guide to Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Liao Chai Chih I,’ JICSBS, September 1980, pp. 1–37, with translations by Jean Yü. The story of Xiangyu, the spirit of the white peony, appears in juan 3. In fact, the white peonies were not present, having been removed to another place when Mr. Huang and Jiangxue met, but they are painted here to facilitate the evocation of the heroine, Xiangyu.

In the vicinity of a Daoist monastery in Jimo district in Shandong province there were a naidong (literally ‘able to withstand the winter cold’) tree and peony bushes that produced huge blossoms during the flowering season. A Mr. Huang left home to build a cottage nearby in order to study. One day, when he was reading, he saw two girls wandering among the flowers. One wore white clothes and the other wore red. As soon as Huang went out they disappeared. Disappointed, he returned to his study. Suddenly the girl in white came in and introduced herself as Xiangyu (Fragrant Jade); her companion in red, she said, was called Jiangxue (Crimson Snow). Huang and Xiangyu were instantly attracted to each other. One day Xiangyu came to bid Huang farewell without telling him the reason. Huang was perplexed by her sadness. The next day when he saw the white peony bushes being dug up and moved away, he realized that Xiangyu was a flower spirit and she had already foreseen her sad fate. Later, when news about the white peony bushes wilting in their new home reached him, he went every day to the spot where the bushes had previously been to lament. On one such occasion he came upon the girl in red, also in tears because she had lost a dear friend. They talked and became friends. Then one night Huang had a dream of this girl, Jiangxue, pleading for help. After waking up, he hurried to the spot where the naidong grew and was just in time to stop a builder from chopping it down, thus saving the life of the tree spirit. Eventually, the Flower Deity was moved by Huang’s sentiments for the flowers and saw to it that the white peonies were replanted in the monastery precinct, in a safer place. Thus, Xiangyu was able to reappear and keep Huang company. About a decade later, Huang became ill. He predicted that sometime later he would be reincarnated as a plant having palmate leaves and would grow near the peony bushes. This happened exactly as he had predicted. For several years this plant thrived. But as time passed by and it never gave flower, some young Daoist priests chopped it down. As soon as that happened, the peony bushes and the naidong also died.

The story of the bridegroom recounts a strange case supposed to have taken place in Shandong province. On the evening of his marriage, a certain Mr. Sun saw his bride, in all her wedding clothing, walking in the garden. He followed her to a stream, with a plank bridge crossing it, where she crossed and, turning, motioned him to follow. He did so, remaining behind her for many miles until they arrived at a house. Turning, she said ‘Your family is far too dull. Let us stay with my family temporarily and after a few days we will return.’ Entering the house the girl’s family were overjoyed to see their daughter again, since, as a rule, the woman in a traditional Chinese marriage moved in with the husband’s family and was all but lost to her own. Meanwhile the Sun family household was in consternation. The groom had disappeared and the prospective bride had no idea where he had gone or why. Months later there was still no sign of him and the bride’s parents asked for her return. The groom’s parents were unwilling to allow this and an official was called to mediate. He decreed that she might go back to her parent’s home and wait. If the groom had not returned within three years, she should be free to remarry.

The groom, meanwhile, was happily settled into the home of what he believed to be his bride. Thinking once more of his own home, however, he wished to return and see his family. His mother-in-law directed him on how to return, but there was great unease all around. The groom looked back as he was leaving, and everything around him had vanished. The house had gone and only a tomb stood where it had been. Running home he recounted his strange tale to the official, who ordered the original bride’s parents to return her for the marriage, since it seemed that the groom had been enticed by and had unwittingly married a ghost. Not all prospective wives, abandoned at the altar for another woman, would be quite so understanding—or so gullible.

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