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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 68 

Lot 68

Lot 68
Treasury 4, no. 445

The Auspicious Faceted Crystal

Flawless crystal and ink; with a flat lip and flat hexagonal foot; inscribed in regular script on the central panel of one main side with an encomium on the snuff bottle and on the central panel of the other with five lines from a rhapsody (fu) on a gathering of immortals by Lü Dongbin (ninth century), followed by the signature Yunfeng and one seal of the artist, Yunfeng, in black ink and positive seal script, the two narrow sides inscribed in regular script with the two parts of a couplet, ‘[May your] happiness be like the incessantly-flowing water of the Eastern Sea’, and ‘[May you] live as long as the never-ageing pines on the Southern Mountains’, the shoulder panels on the main sides inscribed with a single character each, together reading ‘[May you have] peace and good fortune’ (Ping’an jiqing), and the main-side base panels with a similar arrangement of individual characters reading ‘[May you be granted] both happiness and longevity’ (Fushou shuangquan), all in regular script, the regular script containing elements of the clerical style
Bottle: 1740–1811
Painting: Yiru jushi, attributed to Beijing, 1802–1811
Height: 7.02 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.55/1.51 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Lot 68 Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (circa 1969)
Unrecorded Collection
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1983)
Gerd Lester (1986)

JICSBS, December 1974, p. 20
Treasury 4, no. 445

Christie’s, London, 1999

Lot 68 Commentary
The encomium on the side without the signature is the same as on Treasury 4, no. 443 where its hidden meaning is explored, and reads:

Comparable to jade, it is happily free of blemish;
[Also] remarkably [similar to] ice, yet it is far more charming [than ice].
What it holds inside is a uniquely different realm,
Possessing an other-worldly flavour, something worth longing for.

This poem also appears on Treasury 4, no. 447. The other side, which is also signed, is an extract from a fu, or long poetic composition with irregular lines and rhymes and reads:

Then as soon as the setting sun had gone down in the West, a new moon half emerged. Lowly-drifting clouds shrouded the mountain peaks of Chu and mists enveloped the evening rivers. Having got there, the immortals…

This and Treasury 4, nos. 446 and 447 are undated. The technique and skill suggest that it post-dates the bottle dated 1801 (Treasury 4, no. 437), but otherwise they might have been produced at any time during his career.

An intriguing aspect of this bottle is the form of the crystal. Faceting was a standard imperial mode of snuff-bottle production used at the court in a number of workshops, and introduced from Europe by missionaries who set up the imperial glassworks in Beijing in the 1690s. This distinctive shape is found in another bottle by Yiru jushi
from the Quek Kiok Lee Collection in Singapore dated to 1810, and on Treasury 4, no. 456 by Gan Xuanwen. It is also known in a small series of palace glass snuff bottles, including several imitating realgar, that are among the most exciting of all realgar-glass bottles. We know that a good deal of this brightly-coloured and fascinating glass was made at the court, and it may have been an imperial speciality, even if not exclusively. Added to his four other known faceted shapes, it is tempting to see it as one of the stronger links with an imperial source for Yiru jushi’s bottles, which raises the question of the similar shape painted by Gan Xuanwen.

If Gan followed Yiru jushi, he may have seen this bottle or another like it, perhaps while serving at court in the first decade of the nineteenth century and acquired a similarly shaped bottle. By reversing the chronological order of Gan and Yiru jushi, as we now have, we can expect Gan and his circle to have been influenced by Yiru jushi, and doing a similarly calligraphic work (significantly Gan’s only known solely calligraphic work) inside a bottle of the same shape would not be unusual.

The range of bottles used by Yiru jushi is additional circumstantial evidence that he worked from 1801–1811 rather than from 1861–1871 as previously thought. He obviously painted inside a variety of bottles, gathered from many different sources, unlike Gan Xuanwen who appears to have had a manufacturer make for him the majority of his blanks. In Yiru jushi’s works we see a series of imperial shapes, alongside others which might have come from anywhere, and several with carved surfaces indicating that they were not, originally, intended to be painted inside and may even pre-date the art form entirely. Every single one of his extant works is inside a bottle that would be reasonably dated to the period from the mid-eighteenth century to 1811. There is none that obviously postdates 1811. It seems reasonable to assume that had Yiru jushi been painting between 1861 and 1871, he would have used some bottles that more obviously reflect his working period. No such bottles are in evidence. The bottles themselves strongly suggest the earlier period, and a connection to the court at Beijing with the preponderance of probably imperial forms among his works.

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