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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 98 

Lot 98

Lot 98
Treasury 6, no. 1143

Yangzhou Identification

Famille rose enamels on translucent white glass; with a flat lip and protruding concave foot; painted on one main side with a mountainous landscape scene in which an equestrian hunter, a whip in one hand and a bow in the other, looks back over his shoulder at a goose he has just shot, an attendant behind him standing with arms outstretched, ready to catch the falling bird, and on the other main side with two boys on water buffalos wading in shallow water near a willow tree, with two swallows flying above, and with distant, wispy clouds; the foot inscribed in faint, iron-red seal script Yangzhen qingshou (Nurture one's true nature, celebrate a long life)
Yangzhou, 1775–1799
Height: 5.26 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.54/1.15 cm
Stopper: glass; silver collar
Condition: slight rounding of the outer edge of the footrim may be either original or the result of minor chips being subsequently removed; very minor surface wear due to use, visible only under magnification. General relative condition: almost studio condition

Hong Kong Auctioneers & Estate Agency, 27 September 1991, lot 291
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1993)

Treasury 6, no. 1143

This intriguing bottle is related stylistically to a recently discovered bottle that is inscribed as having been made at Yangzhou (Hugh Moss Records). The subjects here constitute an interesting combination of two stock subjects, shooting a bird from horseback and bathing water buffalo, that appear in a number of paintings and snuff bottles from the hands of artists known to have worked in the Yangzhou–Suzhou–Shanghai–Hangzhou area. For the hunting scene, there is a fairly well documented trio of paintings, with the first being the likely ancestor of the second two paintings as well as the painting on this bottle:

Hua Yan (1682–1756)
Hangzhou, to which the artist moved in 1752 from Yangzhou
Lawrence 1993, p. 11, fig. 31; Chou Ju-hsi 1992, p. 347, n. 348, cites 'a version of Hua Yan's original treatment', with a more descriptive title, in Christie's, New York, 2 June 1988, lot 90; lot 91 is 'a rendition of the same theme' by Yangzhou native and resident Wang Su (1794–1877).

Ren Yi (1840–1895)
Probably Shanghai, where he lived from 1868 until his death
Tan Tsze Chor 1953, p. 22, pl. 13

Ni Tian (1853 or 1855–1919)
Suzhou or Shanghai
Chou Ju-hsi 1992, p. 205.

Both Ren Yi and Ni Tian announce in inscriptions on their paintings that they are following Hua Yan, although Ren Yi does a mirror image of the original, placing the horseman on the right and the footman on the left. Interestingly, Renyi states that the bird is a pheasant, and indeed it seems appropriately closer to the ground; in all other versions, our bottle included, the bird is flying much higher in the sky. Ni Tian's inscribed quatrain speaks of a wild goose fallen on the sand (though the bird in the painting has not yet been brought down); and Hua Yan's poem (in Lawrence's translation; the inscription is too small in the illustration to read directly) makes it a hawk shot from among the clouds.

If one has a chance to inspect these paintings, it seems clear that the artist who decorated this bottle modelled it after the 1755 Hua Yan painting, his primary innovation being the addition of background mountains; where Hua Yan's vertical scroll format allowed him to suggest distance and height by leaving the middle of the composition blank, the snuff-bottle format forced the artist to use landscape elements to suggest the same spatial scale. Ni Tian was to do the same in his painting, which was an album leaf.

Now, does any of this point to a Yangzhou origin for the bottle? No, but it does not disprove such an origin, either. Hua Yan's painting didn't have to stay in Hangzhou just because it was painted there; after all, it was surely not in Hangzhou that Ni Tian saw it 135 years later. It is harder to tell whether Ren Yi saw Hua's painting or was guided by a description by someone who had; did he depart in so many ways from his model because he had not seen it personally, or was it because he was also working in a vertical scroll format and to follow Hua Yan closely would be simple copying, artistically uninteresting? But it is important to remember that communication between Yangzhou and these other cities was relatively easy and constant. For a painting by Hua Yan to go back a friend or client in Yangzhou, where he had lived for two decades, would seem perfectly reasonable, and it could have happened immediately or sometime in the date range we feel is reasonable for this bottle. Just as reasonably, its owner at the time of the Taiping troubles would have looked for a way to get it to the safety of Shanghai, after which time it either remained there or circulated in the vicinity (including Suzhou).

For another painting on glass of similar quality, although of different subjects, see Sotheby's, London, 21 June 1995, lot 21, where lots 22 and 23 are also from the same general tradition.

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