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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 42 

Lot 42


Lot 42
Treasury 4, nos. 610 and 611

No. 610

Jiang Chaozong in Military Uniform

Flawless crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a flat lip and recessed, slightly concave foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; painted on one main side with a portrait of Jiang Chaozong in full military costume under a fur greatcoat, his sword held between his hands in front of him, the other main side inscribed in regular script with a eulogium describing the sitter, preceded by the title ‘On the Beneficial Administration of Yucheng, the Honourable Commander-in-Chief of the Army’, and followed by ‘Delivered with a bow by your comrade and friend Cheng Quanren’, with one seal of the donor, ren, in negative seal script
Bottle: 1780–1923
Painting: Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, 1916–1923
Height: 6.92 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.71/1.42 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

No. 611

Jiang Chaozong in Civilian Clothing

Flawless crystal, ink, and vermilion watercolour; with a slightly concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; painted on one main side with a portrait of Jiang Chaozong in a fur coat and hat, the other main side inscribed in regular script with a eulogium describing the sitter, preceded by the title ‘On the Beneficial Administration of Yucheng, the Honourable Brigade-General’, and followed by ‘Felicitations offered by your friend Cheng Quanren’, with one seal of the donor, ren
Bottle: 1740–1850
Painting: Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, 1916–1923
Height: 6.4 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.66/1.9 and 1.85 cm (oval)
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Associated paraphernalia: Fitted case inscribed by Jiang Chaozong to contain this and its companion piece, Treasury 4, no. 610

Lot 42 Provenance:
Jiang Chaozong
Dr. N. C. Shen
Emily Byrne Curtis
Robert Hall (1987)
Curtis 1982, no. 24
JICSBS, Autumn 1985, pp. 131–132, figs. 3 and 4
Hall 1987, no. 75
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 344
Arts of Asia, September–October 1996, p. 80, fig. 2 and p. 87
Kleiner 1995, no. 420
Ma Zengshan 1997, p. 68, fig. 64
Treasury 4, nos. 610 and 611
Robert Hall, London, October 1987
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
British Museum, London, June–November 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

Lot 42 Commentary
This rare pair of portraits shows Jiang Chaozong in both military and civilian outfits. They were acquired early in the century by Dr. N. C. Shen. On the fitted case, apparently made for them by Jiang, is the inscription ‘Yucheng’s treasure,’ Yucheng being his Jiang’s alias.
What little information we have about Jiang comes, yet again, from the research of Emily Byrne Curtis (Curtis 1985). The sitter was identified by Dr. N. C. Shen, who was a professor of psychology at Yanjing University in Beijing during the first half of the century and an associate of Dr. Louis E. Wolferz, who also collected inside-painted snuff bottles. Dr. Shen left a statement in his notes that these portraits were of Jiang and that the label on the fitted case to contain the two was by Jiang himself, inscribed ‘Yucheng’s treasure.’ The name Yucheng also appears on this bottle, and since the term ‘Yucheng’s treasure’ would only be used if he himself owned them, we can be certain that, in this case at least, the bottles were made for Jiang Chaozong as opposed to having been made for a friend or admirer.

General Jiang’s career spanned three decades and he reached the age of 73 years in 1931. We also know what he looked like at the age of 78, from a photograph published by Curtis (ibid., p. 132, fig. 4) and can guess at his age in these portraits as being in his late fifties or early sixties, placing their likely date of manufacture between about 1916 and 1923. This is the only case known where a pair of portraits was commissioned to show an individual in two of his roles in life. In one Jiang is shown as a military man, wearing the Western-style uniform common to Republican soldiers and in the other he is seen in traditional Chinese winter civilian garb.

The eulogy on the military portrait reads:

Much respected and full of virtue,
Your achievements are vast.
[With you] stationed at the capital,
Peace and happiness reign in the vicinity.
The merchants sing praises;
The populace feels thankful.
[You are] as able as Han [Qi] and Fan [Zhongyan].
[Your] tactics are comparable to those of Zhuge [Liang].
[Because you] promote friendship with the allies,
All neighbouring countries join in wishing [you] well.

Considering the ongoing political chaos of the Republican years, rife with political intrigue and power-plays and war-lords ruling various areas of China like little emperors, the eulogy seems to beg the question of precisely where Jiang was a military commander. Such realities, of course, made no difference to a eulogy in China, where, if one had nothing nice to say one truly did say nothing. We would not expect such a eulogy to reflect the truth, any more than we would expect a filial Chinese author to write anything other than a hagiography. Both are eulogies of a sort and both focus on the best possible aspects of their subject.

Han Qi (1008–1075) and Fan Zhongyan (989–1052) were both writers and politicians of the Northern Song period (960–1127). In the third year of the Baoyuan period (1040) they jointly directed an army to resist the invasion of Xixia, a barbarian state (1038–1227) at Yanzhou in Shaanxi province. Zhuge Liang (181–234) was a politician and an eminent strategist who served the state of Shu in Sichuan province during the Three Kingdoms period (220–265).

The inscription on the civilian portrait reads:

[As] the sun warms the flags and banners,
[You, who are in charge of the] armed forces in the capital,
[Are] a great leader in a prosperous age.
[Like] an unmovable rock in a turbulent stream,
[Your] reputation overawes the important areas.
Thieves and robbers have all been wiped out.
[You] plan [your] strategies as though [with the help of] the gods.
With ease [you] devise schemes and solutions.
Fully in support of the Republic,
[You] work for the welfare of the people.

The civilian portrait is painted in a convincingly old crystal bottle. Without the painting it would not for a moment be questioned as a mid-Qing standard, rounded-rectangular form, whereas the military portrait appears in a bottle which is not so convincingly old. We believe that a great many of these crystal bottles were made at the time of painting. On the bottle with the military portrait the hollowing is uneven, becoming almost paper thin at the narrow sides while being thicker near the base and the shoulders in a manner which would be unlikely for so elegantly made and extensively hollowed a bottle from the early Qing period. The civilian portrait crystal is more convincing, with its superbly even, extensive hollowing, slightly concave lip and beautifully recessed flat foot surrounded by a broad flat footrim.

To whatever extent Ma Shaoxuan had family members working under his name, and to whatever extent he was inclined to turn out repetitive decorative images for the marketplace, there is no doubt that at his best he was one of the great masters of the medium. He remains an enigma: an artist capable of putting his name to banal pot-boilers who, at the same time, obviously cared deeply about his art and laboured
to refine his skills and maintain his reputation throughout his life. But equally, there is no question that with his best works, he ranks alongside the finest artists in the medium and his portraits are always of supreme quality and artistry. One only has to see the vast majority of tasteless, chocolate-box portraits painted by most of today’s artists to appreciate the depth and sincerity of Ma Shaoxuan’s portraiture.

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