Wang Xisan inside painted crystal with Xingyouheng tang mark.
Lot 124
An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle Wang Xisan, dated 1967 (the bottle 1760-1857)
Sold for HK$ 156,000 (US$ 20,117) inc. premium
Lot Details
An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle
Wang Xisan, dated 1967 (the bottle 1760-1857)
6.49cm high.


  • Treasury 4, no. 663

    內畫:王習三, 1967年'

    The Key to Freedom

    Flawless crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; the foot incised in clerical script with the four character hall mark Xingyouheng tang (Hall of Constancy); painted on one main side with a scholar in a boat being punted by a boatman towards a country retreat among trees, another country residence visible among the trees further up river, with misty hills beyond, the other main side with two magpies on the branches of a maple growing from behind a convoluted rock, inscribed 'Executed in the eleventh month of the year dingwei', with one seal of the artist, Xisan, in negative seal script

    Bottle: 1760–1857
    Painting: Wang Xisan, Yang village, Hebei province, winter, 1967
    Height: 6.49 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.78/1.82 cm
    Stopper: stained quartz; gilt-bronze collar
    Condition: two miniscule chips in the outer lip—so small they are unmeasurable—completely insignificant; otherwise, perfect. Painting: studio condition

    Unrecorded source, Hong Kong, (1972–1974)
    Hugh Moss (1985)
    JICSBS, December 1977, p. 21, fig. 31
    Kleiner 1995, no. 434
    Treasury 4, no. 663
    British Museum, London, June–November 1995
    Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997
    Christie's, London, 1999

    When Wang Xisan was caught up in the red tide of the Cultural Revolution, he was sent back to his native place, Yang village, in Hebei province, where he was forced, at first, to do farm labour. His banishment took place on 24th August 1966 and he still harbours bitter memories of that date. He had taken with him from Beijing three blank bottles, rolled up and hidden in his bedding. He was put to work doing manual labour in the fields, earning for his country and himself a tiny fraction of what he used to earn as a painter of snuff bottles. He pointed out to the commune management that if he was allowed to paint, he could earn for the commune far more money than he could by pulling weeds and planting crops. Some considered him a braggart with his high-faluting ideas, and the commune management was suspicious that he was merely trying to find a way to visit Beijing and Tianjin occasionally, but he convinced them to let him at least show them what he could do. He would work during the long day-time hours on the commune, and paint by lantern light at night. He finished his three bottles and with permission from the commune and his uncle as his guarantor, he was allowed to go to Tianjin to sell them, which he did easily. On the strength of the three bottles he had painted, which he was able to sell for what was, to them, a great deal of money, he was gradually allowed to give up farming and resume his art so that he could enrich the commune.

    We know that in January 1967 Wang was briefly allowed to return to Beijing pending an appeal of his exiled status. He was forbidden to paint snuff bottles during his stay in the capital, being put to work instead making souvenir badges of the Chairman. His appeal failed, and by November 1967 he was back in Hebei. We also know that by the following June of 1968, he had sufficiently convinced the cadres that he was allowed to take his first student, his nephew Wang Baichuan.

    The present bottle was painted in the winter of 1967 and must have been done after his return to Hebei. Wang recalls that he took three old bottles with him into exile, hidden in his bedding. One he painted with a picture of geese, another with a black bear, and the third he does not recall, but this was not one of them. It was probably a blank he acquired during his appeal in Beijing and painted as soon as he returned to Hebei, knowing that he must come to terms with his cadres if he was to continue his art. Its superb quality represents the key to freedom for Wang to return to his beloved art on a regular basis, even if still in exile.

    At this time, Wang's painting remained lofty and pure. He had not begun to teach a lot of students, which can sap creative energy in an artist, and he had not yet been appointed to a number of committees and political bodies, nor had he been put under commercial pressure by his status and position. Not only that, but he had to prove himself to his commune members by painting masterpieces that would be readily saleable. These various factors maintained his art at a very high level throughout the rest of the 1960s and into the 1970s.

    Apart from the lovely bottle used here, which was once a plain crystal bottle belonging to the fifth Prince Ding (see Treasury 1, no. 150, and Treasury 2, nos. 359–364), the painting is a masterly work in its own right. It combines all of the qualities of a great Chinese painting, and exhibits Wang's masterly brushwork as discussed under Treasury 4, no. 662 (lot 22 here). The painting may have been inspired by Zhang Daqian (1899–1983) who painted a series of works during the mid-century of birds on the branches of red-leafed maple trees. They were so distinctive that they inspired other artists of the day, and it is likely that Wang had seen such paintings, although the composition and style are entirely his own and it is possible that he arrived at a similar sort of image independently.



    內畫:王習三,河北衡水阜城縣楊莊村, 1967年冬季
    高:6.49 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.78/1.82 厘米

    《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 1977年12月,頁21,圖31
    Kleiner 1995, 編號434
    Treasury 4, 編號663
    大英博物館, 倫敦, 1995年6月~10 月
    Israel Museum, 耶路撒冷, 1997年7月~11月

    1967年正月,王習三回京對下鄉的追派提出上訴,在京時間役使作毛主席章,到了11月上訴駁回後,就回到楊莊村。翌年6 月他就收侄子王百川為第一個徒弟。本壺大概是1967年末回到河北以後畫的。王習三回憶,他帶了三件舊煙壺,大概是在北京弄到的。除了本壺外,一件內畫了雁,一件內畫了黑熊。他心裏知道,這三件壺是他能夠回復本業的關鍵,也是開副業在村莊掙錢的關鍵;果然,是上乘的作品。