A turquoise porcelain carved 'landscape' snuff bottle
Wang Bingrong, Jingdezhen, 18201840 6.92cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1354
Meeting by Chance
Mottled greenish turquoise-blue glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; carved on one main side and two narrow sides with a landscape scene on the left side of which grows a willow beneath which two saddled horses with tail cruppers and round saddle flaps rest, one standing, the other lying down, and on the right side of which an elaborate residence nestles against a rocky slope that wraps around to the other main side, two scholars visible at a table in the upper level of the residence, one reading a book, the other holding a wine cup while their servant stands nearby with a wine jug, the other main side engraved in running script with a couplet by the Tang poet Wang Wei, followed in relief running script by Bingrong shi zuo ('Made by Mr. Bingrong'); all exterior surfaces except the footrim glazed; the interior unglazed Wang Bingrong, Jingdezhen, 18201840 Height: 6.92 cm Mouth/lip: 0.58/1.33 cm Stopper: pearl; coral collar
Condition: three tiny chips, one to the ear of each of the horses and one to a knot-hole in the willow above them; some surface abrasions visible to the naked eye but not too obtrusive; otherwise, normal wear and tear. General relative condition: good
Provenance: Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 29 April 1992, lot 414
Published: JICSBS, Autumn 1992, p. 21, fig. 4 Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 187 Kleiner 1995, no. 235 JICSBS, Autumn 1995, p. 22 Chen Tao 2002, p.5, no. 7 Treasury 6, no. 1354
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum of Singapore, November 1994February 1995 British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
Commentary: Wang Bingrong was obviously capable of work in the same class as Chen Guozhi but appears to have been more commercially minded, mainly because of a series of bottles, presumably made in relatively large quantities, featuring the same subject of dragons. These dragon bottles, possibly made for the court, are of two different compositions, although no two examples are ever identical, given the nature of the art form. In Miller and Hui 2006 (p. 30), the odd suggestion is put forward that Wang Bingrong's dragon series of bottles are not, strictly speaking, carved, but put together from moulded sections and are, therefore, more like the mid-Qing imperial moulded-porcelain snuff bottles. This is a false dichotomy. All the compressed forms of the individual porcelain carvers are initially made from two sheets of porcelain pressed into a mould and joined with slip at the narrow sides, but that only produces the body that is to be carved. A study of the Wang's dragon bottles reveals beyond a doubt that no two are alike in their precise positioning of the dragons and in the surrounding details.
Without any dated landmarks from Wang's output, unfortunately, we are somewhat at a loss to know when he worked and in which direction the influence flowed. Wang is mentioned in Zhao Ruzhen 1970 as a 'refined artisan and skilful workman', suggesting that this twentieth-century scholar thought him pretty much the equal of Chen Guozhi, to whom he applied the same praise. Wang was not, however, mentioned by Zhao Zhiqian in the late ninteenth century. Given the number of surviving Wang Bingrong works today, Zhao Zhiqian can hardly have been unaware of his products if he worked during the mid-century. The fact that Chen Guozhi's works were so admired by Zhao Zhiqian while Wang's were passed over in silence calls for further research.
The inscription is the third and last line to a quatrain titled 'Song of Youth', by the well-known Tang poet Wang Wei. It describes the dashing young men in and around the capital:
They meet in high spirits and drink to each other's health, Tying their horses to the drooping willow by the tall mansion.
This is the only known version of this subject by Wang or any other porcelain carver, and it is one of the masterpieces of the genre.
An apparent companion to this piece, although of a different subject, with an imitation-jadeite glaze, was in Sotheby's, London, 28 April 1987, lot 713. It also had an inscription but it was unfortunately neither translated nor illustrated, and the bottle has not surfaced in any other publication since. It did, however, surface before 1987 well before. It is illustrated in Marcus B. Huish, 'A Little Appreciated side of Art, Chinese Snuff Bottles', in Studio, vol. 512, no. 8, June 1896, fig. 16. In those days, however, an illustration was a luxury; the inscription is not shown (nor is it translated, or even mentioned).
Although none of Wang Bingrong's wares is dated, he probably began work at some time during the Daoguang period, with his workshops continuing well into the second half of the nineteenth century, perhaps under descendants still milking his market. We think that signatures on the body of the bottle in carved porcelains may characterize earlier works in the evolution of the art form and therefore suspect this may be among his earlier masterpieces, his later signatures tending to be on the foot. The glaze is probably intended to imitate jadeite, although the colouring is distinctly more turquoise-blue than emerald-green.
Four of Wang's works appeared in the 1978 exhibition in the Fung Ping Shan Museum. Fung Ping Shan Museum 1978, nos. 6 and 9, are two brush pots, no. 62 a brush washer, and no. 103 a four-clawed-dragon-decorated snuff bottle with a pale blue glaze. Another brush pot decorated with the 'Three friends of winter' under a caramel-brown glaze and a vase with a similar glaze were in Christie's, South Kensington, 14 November 2002, lots 384 and 385. A beehive-shaped water vessel is in the Baur Collection (Ayers 1974, vol. 4, plate A659), and many other brush pots are recorded. Many of Wang's works are illustrated in Miller and Hui 2006, indexed on p. 344.
For other snuff bottles by Wang Bingrong, see Ford 1982, no. 175 (with a yellow-glazed landscape); Christie's, London, 19 June 1978, lot 8 (a caramel-brown landscape bottle of unusually bulbous form); Sotheby's, New York, 23 April 1981, lot 54 (a biscuit porcelain with a five-clawed imperial dragon); Holden 2002, nos. 221 (a lime-green glazed landscape formerly in the Cussons Collection and now in the Quentin Loh Collection that is also illustrated in JICSBS, June 1976, p. 11, figs. 18a and 18b), no. 223 (a landscape with an imitation-jadeite glaze), and no. 228 (with a caramel-brown glaze over a reticulated bat and shou character design); Sydney L. Moss Ltd 1965, no. 225; R. Holden 1994, no. 118 (a yellow-glazed landscape); Lawrence 1996, no. 96 (unglazed and of unusual form and decoration); Christie's, New York, 18 October 1993, lot 23 (from the Reif Collection, with a dragon above waves, covered with an imitation-jadeite glaze), and lot 43 (a yellow-glazed dragon-and-clouds design from the same collection); Low 2002, no. 189 (a caramel-brown glazed prunus design); Hui and Sin 1994, no. 34 (a yellow-glazed riverscape); Hui and Polak 1991, no. 96 (a lime-green-glazed riverside scene); Christie's, London, 12 June 1972, lot 13 (an unusually shaped landscape version from the Ko Collection); Kleiner 1997, no. 95 (an extremely rare, white-glazed example with what must be Buddhist lions, since they are surrounded by flames); Jennifer Chen 1998, p. 17, no. 1 (also in JICSBS, Autumn 2004, p. 8, fig. 22; a splendid, creamy-white-glazed example with a flowering prunus tree); Phillips, London, 13 June 2001 (also in JICSBS, Autumn 2001, p. 36, fig. 6a; a rare yellow-glazed design of an immortal standing, playing a flute, on the head of a dragon); Hanhai, Beijing, 1 June 1997, lot 1169 (another of the same subject, but of paler colour and lower relief); JICSBS, Autumn 1987, p. 13, fig. 21 (another rare design of two Buddhist lions that is probably by Wang, although identified only as 'privately made and signed'); Kleiner 1990, no. 154 (a pale-yellow-glazed bottle decorated with a five-clawed imperial dragon and clouds, although of a different shape to the standard represented by no. 1357 and not reticulated); Kleiner 2000, no. 46 (a pale-yellow-glazed bottle decorated with two horses in landscape); Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 24 January 1975, lot 44 (another rare form, resembling an archway with a cylindrical neck added at the top, decorated with an immortal holding a large vase and described as with a pale celadon glaze, but probably a pale lime- or lemon-yellow-glaze); Sotheby's, New York, 15 March 1984, lot 19 (a landscape scene with an imitation-jadeite glaze catalogued only as bearing a two-character seal, but also almost certainly by Wang, the seal probably reading Bingrong, a signature that he occasionally used); Sotheby's, New York, 1 June 1994, lot 709 (a non-reticulated dragon design with a pale, yellowish, caramel-brown glaze); Sotheby's, New York, 26 November 1991, lot 171 (another lime-green glazed landscape); Sotheby's, New York, 23 March 1998, lot 121 (a yellow-glazed landscape), and Miller and Hui 2006, nos. 8082, 84, 8789, and 91.