Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish
Lot 10
An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle Zhou Leyuan, dated 1885 (the bottle 1740-1860)
Sold for HK$ 96,000 (US$ 12,374) inc. premium

Lot Details
Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish Zhou Leyuan 1885 fish
An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle
Zhou Leyuan, dated 1885 (the bottle 1740-1860)
5.06cm high.

Footnotes

  • Treasury 4, no. 469


    水晶內畫鼻煙壺
    周樂元,1885年(壺,1740~1860)


    Annual Abundance

    Pale brown crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a flat lip and protruding flat foot; painted on one main side with two catfish swimming amidst aquatic plants, inscribed in draft script 'Painted from life by Zhou Leyuan in a winter month in the year yiyou', the other main side with three large fish (catfish, carp, and mandarin fish) and four minnows, also swimming around aquatic plants
    Bottle: 1740–1860
    Painting: Zhou Leyuan, Studio of Lotus-root Fragrance, Xuannan, Beijing, winter, 1885
    Height: 5.06 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.60/1.62 cm
    Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar
    Condition: Bottle: one tiny and one miniscule chip to outer lip. Painting: very minor snuff staining, but otherwise in remarkably good condition

    Provenance:
    S. Marchant and Son, Ltd. (prior to 1968)
    Hugh Moss (1987)

    Published:
    Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 4, p. 57, fig. 10
    Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, no. 220
    Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 311
    Treasury 4, no. 469

    Exhibited:
    Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–December 1978
    Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
    National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

    Commentary:
    The main fish depicted here are the catfish (nianyu), the carp (liyu) and the mandarin fish (guiyu). The image of the catfish alone would conjure up the phrase, niannian youyu, meaning '[May you be blessed with] abundance year after year.' The combination of the images of the catfish and the carp would yield another phrase, niannian dali, meaning '[May you be blessed with] great profit year after year.' The combination of the catfish and the mandarin fish would produce yet another phrase, niannian dagui, meaning '[May you be blessed with] great honour year after year.' The pair of catfish together may also imply conjugal harmony (which is probably much easier to maintain with all that abundance, wealth and honour).

    The year 1885 was obviously an important one for Zhou Leyuan. Having established his new style, better suited to inside-painted snuff bottles than the old, lantern-painting style with which he began his career (see under Treasury 4, no. 466), his works appear to have become very sought after in 1885. While there are only a few bottles from the preceding years, there appears to have been a sudden burst of activity in this year. Bearing in mind that what is recorded in Hugh Moss Records is an incomplete survey of what exists in the world, and that what still exists is only a part of what was originally produced, we can still assume that if there are only a couple of bottles in the Records for one year, and then suddenly more than a dozen from the next, it indicates a trend and suggests he painted many more bottles in the year from which more survive. 1885 was also a key year in terms of his repertoire. Prior to this year his paintings were mostly of landscape or auspicious objects, the latter appearing on the majority of his earlier output. In 1885 he suddenly broadened his range considerably, presumably in response to his obvious success and the demand for his paintings. It is sensible for a commercial artist to expand his range as his customer-base grows, offering more choice and avoiding the impression that one paints only a couple of subjects with any success. It is equally inevitable for a serious artist to explore an expanded range of subjects as his art evolves, and it will evolve more rapidly if more work is being produced. His fish paintings first appear in this year and are immediately masterful and become an enduring and endearing part of his subsequent repertoire. In the same year, he also brings his tiny figures out of the landscape to give them star-billing as the main subject. Exotic birds first appear, as do the insects on a rocky bank and the boy on the buffalo (one of the few newly introduced subjects where one sees any hint of artistic hesitance and uncertainty), and, finally, the charming naughty school children of Treasury 4, no. 471. 1885 was clearly a fruitful year both artistically and commercially.

    Apart from the rare and lovely shape of the earlier crystal bottle, this is one of Zhou's great masterpieces from the first half of his career. The depth of the crystal and the roundness of the interior hollowing have inspired Zhou to create a wholly convincing underwater world, furnished with wonderfully understated aquatic plants. In it the fish are so finely painted in their various positions that one can read their movement into the scene, feel the tensile, casual, confident flip of a tail as it guides the fish through the water, turning in this direction and that. It is intriguing that in a bottle with a continuous curve inside and having painted the same subject on each side, Zhou did not make it a continuous scene as he did with Treasury 4, no. 470, which is from the same month. The two sides are very clearly meant to be read as separate paintings, as can be seen from the narrow side. One possible reason for this is that he was experimenting with a new subject, but his confidence is so obvious in every other aspect of these two works, that there must be more to it than that. It is possibly contained in the symbolism. As a continuous subject the number of fish would not be so significant and it would be harder to isolate the imagery of the two catfish on their own, which offers the additional symbolism of marital harmony. It is perhaps significant that they are absent from Treasury 4, no. 470.


    年年有魚

    淡枯黃色的水晶、墨、水色;平唇、突出長方形平足;一面內畫二條鯰魚、水藻,題行書"乙酉冬月周樂元寫生"一款,另一面內畫鯰魚、鯉魚、鮭魚各一條、小魚四條、水藻

    壺:1740~1860
    內畫:周樂元,藕香書軒,宣南房舍,北京,1885年冬
    高:5.06 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.60/1.62 厘米
    蓋:碧璽,乙烯基座
    狀態敘述:壺:唇緣二缺口,一細小的,一微乎其微的;圖:微不足道的煙草污跡,此外狀態非常好

    來源:
    S. Marchant & Son Ltd (1968以前)
    莫士撝 (1987)
    文獻:
    Chinese Snuff Bottles 4, 頁57,圖10
    Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, 編號220
    Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, 編號311
    Treasury 4, 編號 469
    展覽:
    香港藝術館,1978年10 月至12月
    香港藝術館,1994年3 月至6月
    National Museum of Singapore, 1994年11月~1995年2月
    佳士得,倫敦,1999年

    說明:
    圖中的畫謎 ,如鯰鯰大鮭、鯰鯰大鯉等,不言而喻,且說清德宗光緒11年(歲次乙酉)在周樂元生涯中好像是功成業就的一年。他原來很適合官燈、紗燈繪畫的筆法已經演變成了地道的鼻煙壺內畫筆法。莫士撝知見錄雖然不能記錄全世界所有現存的煙壺,但因為所記載的周樂元光緒11 年以前所作內畫煙壺寥若晨星,而光緒11年作的突然有十幾個,我們可以推論起來,那年在需求和供給兩方面是個關鍵年頭。在內畫內容方面光緒11年也是個關鍵年頭。以前,他畫的多半是山水圖和吉祥物圖,以後的內容就豐富多了。這不但是因為他面向動態市場,不要讓人覺得他技能有限,而且是因為謹慎的藝術家在技能發展過程中當然要對新的內容進行探究。周樂元的游魚圖從光緒11年就出現,一開始就是熟練,以後就是他作品中不朽的、可愛的一部分。

    本來的壺,形式珍稀、水晶厚重、膛內溜圓,刺激了周樂元創造令人信服的水面下境界。水藻畫得很微妙,而潛鱗在淵,生機勃勃,此寫生之極矣。值得注意是他把溜圓的膛內全幅劃分為二幅畫,從側面看,分明不是繞膛內的一幅。這可能是因為題材是新的,他還在試驗的階段。不過,本壺的內畫顯然畫得很順手,沒有絲毫猶豫。他的用意或許在隔離鯰魚,讓它們單獨代表雙鯰賀喜的意思。
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