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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 99 

Lot 99

Lot 99
Treasury 5, no. 1052

Painted Prunus

Semi-transparent white glass; with a concave lip and slightly recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; engraved on one main side with branches of blossoming prunus and on the other with the entirety of a well-known short parallel-prose essay from the ninth century, followed by ‘On an autumn day in the year renyin, Yanbin of Baimen engraved the full text of An Inscription for My Humble Cottage, by Mr. Liu Yuxi’, both in draft script, with one seal of the artist in negative seal script, Zhou
Bottle: possibly Yuanhu, Zhejiang province, circa 1902
Decoration: Zhou Honglai, autumn 1902
Height: 6.13 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.64/1.52 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

Lot 99 Provenance:
Hugh Moss (1985)

Kleiner 1987, no.133
JICSBS, Spring, 1982, back cover
Treasury 5, no. 1052

Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May-June 1993

Lot 99 Commentary
For details of the engraver, Zhou Honglai, one of the pre-eminent late-Qing miniature engravers among the literati, see Treasury 5, nos. 1049-1056.

This rounded-rectangular bottle, more elongated than his standard squat version, is the second most popular form for Zhou Honglai bottles. Both this one and Treasury 5, no. 1055 - the other of the same general form in the Bloch Collection - have a footrim. This footrim, while hardly impeccable, is the best-carved of any of Zhou’s output that we have had an opportunity to handle.

Here we see his oft-repeated subject of a branch of blossoming prunus, a subject beloved of literati artists in general, and adopted by some painters to the virtual exclusion of all others. Zhou may repeat a subject, but never a composition which, as we have noted in relation to Zhou Leyuan and Ding Erzhong - both artists who painted the inside of bottles - as well as glass carver Li Junting, is a sign of the true artist rather than the primarily commercial one. Each composition, although different, is equally vibrant, well-composed, and intensely literate - of which this example is a perfect illustration. The subject is one which allows considerable scope for both brush work and its diamond-point equivalent.
The inscription reads:

A mountain does not need to be high. It becomes known when immortals are to be found. A river does not need to be deep. It becomes enchanted when dragons are to be found. Here is my humble cottage. Through my reputation [its name spreads like] fragrance. The steps are green with scattered moss. [One catches] glimpses of the lush grass through the screen of bamboo splits. Learned scholars [come to] chat and laugh together. The ignorant never count among our company. I can play my zither or read the Diamond Sutra, without [fear of] being disturbed by a medley of stringed and wind musical instruments, or being fatigued by reason of governmental documents. [Similar to] the thatched cottage of Zhuge Liang of Nanyang and the pavilion of Ziyun of Western Shu, [we may cite] Confucius’ saying, ‘How could this be [considered a] crude [abode]?’

Zhuge Liang (181-234) was a politician and military expert living in the Epoch of the Three Kingdoms (AD 220-265). He went into seclusion in Nanyang (present-day Deng xian in Hubei province) at the end of the Eastern Han (25-220). In 207, Liu Bei (161-223), soon to become the founder of the state of Shu, paid him three visits at his thatched cottage to seek advice on military strategy. These visits have been used to signify able leaders ready to waive the formal etiquette appropriate to their high station when searching out talent. Ziyun was the sobriquet of Yang Xiong (BC 53 - 18 AD), a native of Chengdu in Shu (now Sichuan province). He was a well known writer, philosopher and linguist of the Western Han period (BC 206 - 23 AD). Liu Yuxi (772-842), who wrote the original, was a well known Tang-dynasty poet.


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