Mottled grey and colourless glazes on porcelain; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; carved with a continuous scene of bamboo and blossoming prunus growing beside rocks, inscribed in relief seal script with a line from a poem by Fan Chengda (11261193), with two characters reversed: Tian xiang mei bian bieyou chun (The sky facing the prunus seems to be particularly spring-like), followed by one raised oval seal, yin (seal) and with a square, relief seal near the bamboo, also in seal script, Yishao jianqi ([One can] savour the unusual [quality of the composition] from the few elements [it has]); the foot with the signature, in relief seal script, Hu Wenxiang zuo (Made by Hu Wenxiang); the exterior surfaces, except the lip and footrim, with a mottled grey glaze; the interior covered with a colourless glaze Hu Wenxiang, Jingdezhen, 18201870 Height: 7.78 cm Mouth/lip: 0.90/1.35 cm Stopper: rose quartz; gilt bronze collar Condition: bruise in outer lip with small chip missing (0.5 cm at maximum width of bruise, the chip 0.2 cm long, mostly confined to the lip, with practically no depth into the upper neck-rim); small chip out of outer footrim, barely eating into the foot at all (0.28 x 0.20 cm). General relative condition: good
Provenance: Quek Kiok Lee, Singapore (recorded in August 1971) Sotheby's, London. 6 June 1988, lot 7 Published: Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 189 Treasury 6, no. 1366 Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum of Singapore, November 1994February 1995
Commentary The signature Hu Wenxiang, always written in seal characters, although with different formalizations, has caused some confusion over the years. In the 1978 Hong Kong exhibition of carved porcelain (Fung Ping Shan Museum 1978), it was read as Hu Liuxiang; others, probably relying on that catalogue, repeated this error. In Hui and Sin 1994, no. 36, dealing with the other known snuff bottle by the artist, the given name was corrected to Wenxiang, but a misprint had the family name as Wu rather than Hu in the English text. The same bottle was more recently illustrated in Miller and Hui 2006, no. 97, with a correct reading of the name. Coincidentally, wu is also the second character of Hu Wenxiang's place of origin. The place is named as part of his signature on wares where he identifies himself as a man of Xinwu. (See, for instance, a brush pot carved with houses in a landscape and covered with a pale green glaze in Fung Ping Shan Museum 1978, no. 20; and another brush pot in the Victoria & Albert Museum, in Kerr 1986, p. 54, figs. 30 and 31.) Xinwu is a city in Jiangxi province southwest of Jingdezhen; today it is a little over 230 km, or 145 miles, by car.
The Christopher Sin bottle, which was acquired from Sotheby's, New York, 26 November 1991, lot 114, is decorated with a fine landscape scene and covered with an imitation-jadeite glaze, and relates to the style of both Chen Guozhi and Wang Bingrong, and probably dates from the Daoguang period.
Hu may not have produced much during his career, but his few surviving works are enough to cement his reputation. All are masterpieces, and this one is particularly impressive, being a rare shape for the school (although, of course, an extremely common one for the nineteenth century). It also introduces a glaze effect that is unique in the entire range of carved porcelains: a mottled grey colour that imparts a snowy feel. In literati painting, watery grey is often used to paint the background on snow scenes, the artist leaving a white area above branches or other parts of the picture where snow might gather. The grey wash background evokes the clouds, and the effect is properly chilly. The colour makes sense here despite the inscription's reference to spring: Prunus blossoms are admired for blossoming so early in the spring that they are likely to find themselves braving a snowfall.
Although the rocks are carved into relief out of the porcelain ground, the use of slip, probably applied with a brush, is evident here, particularly in the series of dots rising off the rocky surfaces to suggest foliage. The exquisitely literate seal script may also have been added with a brush, but the impression is that it was laid down with thin slivers or strings of porcelain carefully arranged, an extraordinary feat, considering the astonishing control necessary to write this difficult script. In truth, however, the script would actually be more difficult to manage with a brush because of the requirement for a uniform thickness of line; with strings of porcelain, that uniformity can be ensured when the material is rolled into strings, before the composition of the characters begins.
Although Hu Wenxiang may have created very little that has survived, with this bottle he made one of the finest of the whole genre of carved porcelain wares. Under Treasury 6, no. 1367, which may also be by him, we explore the possibility that his use of a variety of names may obscure the true volume of his output.
胡文祥，景德鎮， 1820～1870 高：7.78 厘米 口經/唇經：0.90/1.35厘米 蓋：芙蓉石，描金青銅座 狀態敘述：唇緣有撞痕，脫落了小缺碎片（撞痕最廣處有0.9厘米，缺口有0.2厘米長，幾乎不入頸部上端），圈足外緣有0.28 x 0.20厘米的小缺口，幾乎不侵入；一般相對的狀態：良好
來源： Quek Kiok Lee, 新加坡（1971年8 月記） 蘇富比，倫敦，1988年6月6 日，拍賣品號7 文獻﹕ Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, 編號189 Treasury 6， 編號1366 展覽﹕ 香港藝術館，1994年3 月～6月 National Museum of Singapore, 1994年11月～1995年1月
說明： 胡文祥的款總是篆書體的，但由字形不一致，有抄寫成胡六祥的（憑平山博物館 1978），有抄寫成吳文祥的（Hui and Sin 1994， 編號36；Miller and Hui 2006，編號97改正）， 皆是錯誤地衍生出來的。寫吳文祥的可能是因為胡文祥是新吳人；憑平山博物館 1978編號20，房屋山水筆筒，與Kerr 1986，頁54，圖30、31，筆筒，都有包括"新吳"的款。（新吳離江西臨川很近，到景德鎮有180公里左右的直線距離。）
Hui and Sin 1994， 編號36 是胡文祥本壺以外唯一已知的鼻煙壺，是蘇富比，紐約，1991年11月26日拍賣品號114，刻飾有良好的山水景觀，釉是仿翡翠的；它的刻風有別於陳國治、王炳榮，大概是道光年間作的。