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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 22 

Lot 22

Lot 22
Treasury 4, no. 492

An inside-painted glass ‘cockerel’ snuff bottle

(‘Auspicious Cockerel’)

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding, rounded footrim; painted with a continuous scene of a cockerel strutting on an elaborate outdoor natural rock sculpture with peonies growing beyond and a blossoming prunus tree in front, a small bird flying above and about to alight on the rock or the branches of the prunus, inscribed in draft script ‘Executed during the long summer of the year xinmao at the Studio of Thirty-six Memorials by Zhou Leyuan’
Zhou Leyuan, The Studio of Thirty-six Memorials, probably Beijing, 1891
Height: 6.7 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.63/1.68 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Lot 22 Provenance:
Ann Meselson
Eric Young
Sotheby’s, London, 13 October 1987, lot 147

Kleiner 1995, no. 384
Treasury 4, no. 492

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

Lot 22 Commentary
The Studio of Lotus Fragrance, identified as being at Xuannan, Beijing, an area near the Xuanwu men (‘Gate of Might’), one of the old entrances to Beijing in the south-west, was where Zhou lived and painted throughout his career--with only one exception. For some reason, from the fourth month until the autumn of 1891, he cites, instead, another studio, the Studio of Thirty-six Memorials (Sanshiliushu zhai), without identifying where it is. This may have been the residence of a patron; we have discovered that there is a Kangxi-era collection of official communications by Li Zhifang (1622—1694) that has a collector’s seal from this studio (or a studio of the same name): Sanshiliushu zhai zhencang shuhua yin (Seal of the book-and-painting collection of the Studio of thirty-six memorials). The name may allude to an upright high official in the late Ming, Yao Jike (1534 – 1608), who submitted thirty-six memorials to the Wanli emperor demanding that he act on the periodic personnel review of 1587 that had found many capital officials to be incompetent, corrupt, and unqualified. (Deng and Wang 1998, p. 648) We speculate that Zhou Leyuan may have used a studio that was on the grounds of Yao Jike’s residence in Beijing. After nearly four centuries and the fires of the Qing conquest, there were probably no remains of the original buildings and gardens, but it would be typical for the people who lived or worked in the neighbourhood to be knowledgeable about the illustrious former resident. But what the relationship between such a site and the collector’s seal in the Kangxi edition would be is anybody’s guess. In any case, Zhou’s use of the Thirty-six Memorials Studio was clearly temporary: he also signed his usual ‘Lotus-root Fragrance Studio’ as the place of painting for a bottle dated to the summer of 1891 and continued to do so regularly until his last known work in the spring of 1893.

The small bird here is one of a series of similar birds that go right back to Zhou Leyuan’s> early years, but 1891 sees the first appearance of the subject of a cockerel. He painted it several times in this and the following year, and it so inspired Ding Erzhong that he also produced several similar paintings in Zhou’s style (see, for instance, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 416, for a cockerel in a very similar pose). The continuous natural rock sculpture wrapped around the body of the bottle, regardless of what went with it, was also popular in his last two full years of painting. It is perhaps surprising with inside-painted bottles that the full potential of the continuous surface was not used more often. Although Zhou painted a considerable number of continuous subjects, he painted more that were two-sided, as did many of his followers. The frequency with which the continuous surface of a bottle was turned into two distinct main sides by the artists was probably due to the desire to paint two entirely different subjects, and therefore increase the potency of the symbolism, so important in a gift. Although many of Zhou’s greatest masterpieces are two-sided, there is something rather satisfying about these continuous subjects where the bottle can be turned in the hand, which is, after all, its natural habitat, without the disjointed effect of the narrow sides where two incompatible subjects meet.

The facility with which Zhou could turn to a completely new subject and make it so convincing is a testament to his artistic powers in his later years. In every way, this is the equal of Ding’s version of the same painting and it is worth bearing in mind that Ding had Zhou’s version to draw from, whereas Zhou invented, or at least initiated this composition for the art form.

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