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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 94 

Lot 94

Lot 94
Treasury 4, no. 656
HK$120,000

Bathing the Water Buffalo

Transparent chalcedony, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; the narrow sides carved with mask-and-ring handles; painted on one side with a scene of two children in a boat picking water caltrops in a lotus pond, inscribed in draft script with the title ‘Gathering Water Caltrops’, followed by ‘Painted by Xisan at the capital’, with three seals of the artist, an indecipherable one preceding the inscription, and Wang and Xisan, both in negative seal script, following it, the other main side with a herdboy leading his water buffalo ashore from a river beneath dangling willow branches, inscribed in draft script with the title ‘Bathing a Water Buffalo’, followed by, ‘[Painted] in the first month of the year renyin’, followed by one seal of the artist, yin (seal), in negative seal script
Bottle: Official school, 1760–1860
Painting: Wang Xisan, Beijing, first month, 1962
Height: 7 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.73/2.12 cm
Stopper: glass; stained walrus-ivory collar

Lot 94 Provenance:
Unrecorded source (prior to 1970)
Hugh Moss (1985)

Published:
Treasury 4, no. 656

Exhibited:
Christie's, London, 1999

Lot 94 Commentary
Wang Xisan will go down in history as one of the major figures in the art of painting inside snuff bottles. At his artistic peak he produced paintings which ranked him on an equal footing with the great masters of the past. His finest works could stand proudly beside those of Zhou Leyuan, Ding Erzhong, and Ma Shaoxuan. But quite apart from his contribution as an artist, his influence over the art form as a whole is considerable, and his efforts rank alongside those of Zhou Leyuan and the Ye brothers, Xiaofeng and Bengqi, in terms of the popularisation and continuity of the art form. Wang is assured a place among the giants of the art. The Bloch Collection has a selection of Wang’s masterpieces from the creative height of his career, mostly from the private collection which had been built up over the years by Hugh Moss.

At the height of his artistic talents and before the Cultural Revolution, Wang had access to plenty of early plain bottles of superb quality to paint, and many of his finest works seem to have been partly inspired by the lovely quality of the old bottles he was using. None of his early works in the Bloch Collection are in newly made bottles, and this is no exception. In a chalcedony bottle from the Official school (see Treasury 2, no. 258) which, in the early 1960s when Wang painted this, would have been virtually unsaleable as a plain bottle, he has painted two of his characteristically inventive subjects. Even as early in his career as this, Wang demonstrates his complete mastery of the art.

 

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