Ma Shaoxuan gathering of ladies and children
Lot 54
An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1903 (the bottle 1740-1840)
Sold for HK$ 384,000 (US$ 49,520) inc. premium
Lot Details
An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle
Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1903 (the bottle 1740-1840)
6.22cm high.


  • Treasury 4, no. 589


    Abundant Male Progeny

    Flawless crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; the narrow sides carved with mask-and-ring handles, painted with a continuous scene of four young women seated playing a card game at a marble-topped table with children playing all around them, some acting out a lion dance, others playing with a toad tied to a string, the side with more children inscribed in regular script '[Executed by] Ma Shaoxuan in mid-autumn of the year kuimao for the approval of Shufeng, an honourable senior acquaintance', followed by one seal of the artist, Shaoxuan, in negative seal script, the side with the ladies inscribed, also in regular script, with a poem, followed by 'Again executed by Shaoxuan', with one further seal of the artist, Shao, in negative seal script

    Bottle: 1740–1840
    Painting: Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, mid-autumn, 1903
    Height: 6.22 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.67/1.82 cm
    Stopper: tourmaline; gilt-silver collar
    Condition: small chip to one side of lip and upper neck rim partially polished off, leaving a small, polished indentation (area of overall compromised material 0.55 x 0.4 cm and very shallow); slightly irregular outer edge of footrim possibly indicating the removal of tiny chips. Painting: some slight snuff staining and very minor spoon scratches; some of the colours, particularly the blue, have gone speckly, which may not have been the original intention but was perhaps due to a mixture of colours separating slightly either during or after application. General relative condition: very good

    Gerd Lester
    Sotheby's, New York, 17 March 1997, lot 459
    Treasury 4, no. 489
    Christie's, London, 1999

    This is a unique subject in Ma's output and one of his finest paintings, although the calligraphy falls a little short of his finest work. The depiction of the children is masterly. Although Zhou Leyuan was the first to paint the subject of children playing, it was taken up by others, such as Sun Xingwu (see Treasury 4, no. 569) and Ye Zhongsan (see Treasury 4, no. 510), the latter so extensively that it became a standard studio subject and in cases where one hundred children were depicted, a tour-de-force. Nowhere are the children better painted than here, and we believe that Ma's familiarity by 1903 with the skills of a portraitist contributed greatly to the success of this work. Having decided to produce a masterpiece, which, as we know, Ma was capable of whenever he chose to, he has convincingly depicted every single child almost as if it is an individual portrait. Each is convincingly posed and interacts realistically with those around him. The heads are shaded to give them a realistic impression of three-dimensionality, and the hands, always difficult to paint and usually rather perfunctorily depicted in this sort of subject, are masterly. This is Ma at his finest, carefully observing, if only in his mind, the precise gesture of each hand as it would be if the child were in that particular pose. This may sound like a minimum requirement for a painting of figure subjects, but we are dealing with an art form which had become primarily decorative and commercial by the early 1900s and which was contained within a small bottle where such well-observed detail could be dispensed with in favour of an overall impression. Had Ma taken less care with the precise position of each hand and not bothered to depict them faultlessly, we would probably not have noticed, concentrating instead on the charm of the overall subject and the composition. It is because they are exceptionally finely painted that we notice.

    The upper group of children is acting out a lion dance, the three on the upper-right pretending to be the lion, the larger boy holding a hand-drum above his head, while in front of them one child kneels on the ground, his hands clasped to simulate a gesture of respect and prayer. For a similar group of children playing at the same game, see Treasury 4, no. 510. The toad the children play with appears to be depicted as a three-legged toad, the familiar companion of the patron saint of commerce and financial matters, Liu Hai (see under Treasury 4, no. 525). This toad is usually shown in conjunction with a long string of cash which Liu Hai holds, and the string here, attached to the leg of the unfortunate creature, is probably intended to invoke this image and thus spice up the symbolism a little.

    With a painting as detailed and carefully thought out as this, had Ma wanted to depict a four-legged toad he would, presumably, have made it quite clear.

    On the other side the poetic inscription reads:

    Four pretty women gather together to while away the summer in their secluded living quarters.
    Their looks are comparable with gorgeous flowers; their manner quite different [from the ordinary].
    More precious [however, are the little boys wearing] colourful [clothes] dancing about beneath their knees.
    [Their] abundant sons are here included in this picture.

    Although the composition illustrates how the womenfolk of the upper class spend their leisure time, the underlying message is made clear by the poem that what is really being depicted is motherhood and the production of many sons. These four appear to have been extremely successful in this endeavour, since they have sixteen children between them.



    高:6.22 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.67/1.82 厘米
    狀態敘述:唇緣有磨治的缺口,因而磨瑩的凹陷面積只有0.44 x 0.50 米厘,並不深;足圈外緣稍微不整齊,或許是削除缺口的地方;內畫有鼻煙染色痕,也有極細的匙擦傷;有的色彩(特別是藍色)有斑點,大概不是馬少宣的意圖而是彩色塗上時或塗上後不久分散;一般相對的狀態:很好

    Gerd Lester
    Treasury 4, 編號489

    這是馬少宣內畫壺中獨特的題目,也是最成功的內畫之一,儘管書法稍稍不符合他最高的標準。孩子們畫得非常優秀。首先畫嬰戲圖的內畫家是周樂元,繼而有孫星五(參見Treasury 4, 編號569)和葉仲三(參見Treasury 4, 編號510)。由於葉仲三多次畫嬰戲圖,它成為內畫的規範題材,百子圖是其中的絕技。畫幼童沒有勝過本壺的,我們認為馬少宣以前畫製二喬觀書、黃忠戲裝等人物畫已經給這幅打好了一個基礎。馬少宣心之所向,無所不能,本圖中每一個孩子描繪得像各別的肖像,姿勢如活,與同伴的交際逼真,頭部的立體形態表現得很成功;手是畫人極難畫的,但馬少宣想好了,如果這孩子是怎麼個姿勢,他的手會是怎麼個姿態,就工筆細描了。這就是馬少宣沉穩求精精神的體現。