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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 35 

Lot 35


Lot 35
Treasury 4, no. 622


Ziyizi’s Portrait of Tan Xinpei

Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; painted on one main side with a portrait bust of Tan Xinpei in the role of General Huang Zhong, set in an oval frame, the other main side with a rooster and five chicks on a grass-covered rocky outcrop beneath hanging willow branches and with peonies growing beyond, inscribed in draft script ‘[Executed] in the summer of the year xinchou by Ziyizi,’ with one seal of the artist, yin (seal), in negative seal script
Ziyizi, Beijing, summer, 1901
Height: 6.9 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.74/1.83 cm
Stopper: amethyst

Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Lot 35 Provenance:
Sigurd Larsen (prior to 1965)
Bob C. Stevens
Sotheby’s, New York, 26 March 1982, lot 219
Mei Ling Collection
Sotheby’s, New York, 15 March 1984, lot 203

Stevens 1976, no. 874
Chinese Snuff Bottles and Dishes 1978, no. 299
JICSBS, Summer 1984, p. 30, fig. 13
Kleiner 1987, no. 300
Kleiner 1995, no. 397
Treasury 4, no. 622

Mikimoto Hall, Tokyo, October 1978
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
British Museum, London, June–November 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997
Christie’s, London, 1999

Lot 35 Commentary
For Tan Xinpei (1847–1917) and the role of General Huang Zhong in which he is depicted here, see Treasury 4, no. 604. Since Ma Shaoxuan is known to have painted this subject several times prior to 1901, we can be reasonably certain that Ziyizi responded to this popular image in creating his own. By 1901 Ma would have created a demand for portraits of this famous Beijing opera star with his fairly large series of very similar portraits at the turn of the century. Ziyizi painted five versions that we know of, all shown within an oval frame, typical of most of his portraits. The rest are undated. It is unlikely that he would have painted five versions entirely for his own amusement, although they differ in composition somewhat more than Ma Shaoxuan’s do. If he was indeed an amateur painter, it is more likely that he painted a series of them for various friends who were opera fans. He may, of course, have painted some commercially even if his main output was for his own amusement and for friends.

This is among his most impressive and one of the great masterpieces from his entire output, not only because of the subject and the excellent painting and lovely colouring, which is rather more subtle than Ma Shaoxuan’s version where a single colour predominates, but because this is really a portrait of Tan Xinpei as much as it is a portrait of the role he is playing. All of Ziyizi’s versions show only the upper shoulders and head, with the banners partly shown behind him. Ma’s all include the upper half of the body, his halberd held across the body, and both hands, showing the face much smaller in relation to the composition than is the case here. Again we find Ziyizi following an earlier artist but painting very much his own version of it artistically. By emphasizing the head, Ziyizi has chosen to make the actor the subject of his portrait, but in a particular role, whereas Ma’s versions tend to portray the role with a particular actor indicated, even though, at that time in Beijing, to show the role would have been to identify the actor, since Tan Xinpei made it his own with so definitive a version. Of all the portraits of Tan Xinpei in the role, this is probably the most compelling. Ziyizi painted many of his large figure subjects with a delightfully impressionistic style and an excellent colour sense, which is nowhere better demonstrated than here.

The subject on the other main side is obviously taken from Zhou Leyuan but, again, is entirely re-thought and painted entirely in Ziyizi’s own style and with his own distinctive colouring and brushwork. The pale, pastel blue rock, for instance, is typical of Ziyizi’s bold use of colour. The symbolism of a rooster with five chicks is explained under Treasury 4, no. 549, and that of the rock and peonies under Treasury 4, no. 466.

This is another of Ziyizi’s masterpieces that is in studio condition, for which we may be grateful, since it allows us to see his extraordinary confidence with colour and his impressionistic style without hindrance.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=118&exhibition=1&ee_lang=eng


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