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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 27 

Lot 27

Lot 27
Treasury 4, no. 585

An inside-painted glass ‘landscape’ snuff bottle

(‘The Poet’s Lofty Spirit’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed, convex foot surrounded by a rounded footrim; painted on one main side with a mountainous landscape scene with an inn outside a country estate on a pathway beside a river, which is crossed by an arched stone bridge, with a traveller on a donkey followed by an attendant on foot approaching the estate, while another, also on a donkey but unattended, approaches the inn, where an unsaddled donkey is already tied up, a cove in the lower left corner occupied by a scholar seated gazing out across the water from a country retreat built on stilts in the shallows, and inscribed on the other main side in regular script with a poem, preceded by ‘[Inscribed in] mid-spring of the year gengzi,’ and followed by ‘[Executed by] Ma Shaoxuan,’ with one seal of the artist, Shaoxuan, in negative seal script
Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, mid-spring, 1900
Height: 6.27 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.63/1.78 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Lot 27 Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1974)
S. C. Harris and R. G. H. Binney
Robert Hall (1985)

Kleiner 1987, no. 289
Galeries Lafayette 1990, p. 11, no. 6
JICSBS, Spring 1988, front cover
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 335
Ma Zengshan 1997, p. 46, fig. 27
Treasury 4, no. 585

Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Galeries Lafayette, Paris, April 1990
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
Christie’s, London, 1999

Lot 27 Commentary
This is one of Ma’s great masterpieces in the landscape genre, but as superb as it is technically, it is again a subject and a composition he repeated (see also Treasury 4, no. 602, where yet a third version is cited). He painted it equally well each time, but the frequent repetition, even of some of his finest paintings, does suggest a governing, fundamentally commercial nature regardless of his technical skills and his ability to frequently overcome the usual ennui of artistic repetition. Neither Ding Erzhong nor Zhou Leyuan> ever repeated a composition, as often as they painted landscapes, whereas Ma seems to have relied on stock images to be repeated on demand, regardless of the amount of time, commitment and technical skill he would devote to each, which was, with this subject, a great deal.

This represents the orthodox painting tradition, as defined by early Qing masters such as Wang Hui (1632–1717) and this is one of Ma’s works that could be separated from its bottle format and still be considered a fine painting. Under a magnifying glass, the brushwork is revealed as among Ma’s best, and it is subtly integrated with washes and texturing strokes or dots. The scene is a charming one of life in the countryside, with travellers arriving at a large country estate with a nearby inn (designated by the flag hanging outside it). In the bottom left-hand corner of the painting is one of the most delightful imaginary private residences in the entire medium.

The poem on the other main side reads:

Buying ‘spring’ for a jade bottle;
Enjoying rain in a thatched cottage;
Fine gentlemen as company;
Tall bamboo right and left.
White clouds in a clearing sky;
Hidden birds following each other.
A reclining qin in green shade;
High above a waterfall in flight....

These are the first eight of twelve lines of ‘Dianya’ (‘Decorous and Dignified’, to use Stephen Owen’s translation) in Sikong Tu’s (837 – 908) Ershisi shipin (‘Twenty-four Categories of Poetry’), a rhymed critique that outlines all the desirable moods in poetic writing. Here the author suggests a variety of activities and scenes conducive to evoking a sense of the lofty spirit a writer should strive for and to which Ma paid lip-service, if nothing else.

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