An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1907 (the bottle 1740-1907)
Lot 154
An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle
Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1907 (the bottle 1740-1907)
Sold for HK$ 1,080,000 (US$ 137,580) inc. premium

Lot Details
An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1907 (the bottle 1740-1907) An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1907 (the bottle 1740-1907) An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1907 (the bottle 1740-1907) An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1907 (the bottle 1740-1907) An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1907 (the bottle 1740-1907)
An inside-painted rock-crystal snuff bottle
Ma Shaoxuan, dated 1907 (the bottle 1740-1907)
depicting Duanfang
6.15cm high.


  • Treasury 4, no. 592

    壺: 1740-1907
    畫: 馬少宣,北京,1907年

    Portrait of Duanfang

    Flawless crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with a portrait of Duanfang wearing a fur hat and fur-trimmed jacket, the other main side inscribed in regular script with an excerpt from Ouyang Xun's 'Ode to the Sweet Spring at the Palace of Nine Achievements' preceded by the date 'Tenth month, during the winter of the year dingwei', and followed by '[Inscribed by] Ma Shaoxuan,', with one seal of the artist, Shaoxuan, in negative seal script
    Bottle: 1740–1907
    Painting: Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, winter of 1907
    Height: 6.15 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.51/1.79 and 1.65 cm (oval)
    Stopper: jadeite; glass collar

    Condition: Bottle: Two insignificant chips in the outer lip; original flaw at the shoulder; otherwise, in overall good condition. Painting: studio condition

    Lilla S. Perry
    Bob C. Stevens
    Sotheby's, New York, 25 June 1982, lot 219
    Eric Young
    Sotheby's London, 24 April 1989, lot 123

    Perry 1960, p. 136, no. 132
    Stevens 1976, no. 1022
    JICSBS, June 1975, pp. 16–17
    Chinese Snuff Bottles and Dishes, no. 291
    Art at Auction 1982, p. 360
    JICSBS, Autumn 1989, p. 26
    Art at Auction 1989, p. 288
    E & O Magazine (unpaginated)
    Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 341
    Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, no. 295
    Arts of Asia, March–April 1997, p. 152, no. 295
    Ma Zengshan 1997, p. 55, fig. 40
    Treasury 4, no. 592

    Mikimoto Hall, Tokyo, October 1978
    Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
    National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
    The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, October 1996

    There are few snuff bottles with a provenance, and publication and exhibition history to match this one. It has inspired some of the great collectors and many writers over the years to either acquire or publish it. The reasons are obvious. Inside a lovely crystal bottle with generous width is one of the most compelling of Ma's many extraordinary portraits. It is compelling partly because of the appearance and demeanour of Duanfang himself, but also because of the unusual fur-lined jacket he is wearing, with a vertical strip of white fur that adds a delightful formal dimension to the portrait. Duanfang is also a very sympathetic figure, a reformer and aesthete who died tragically when pressed into military service for which he was qualified only by dint of being a Manchu Bannerman.

    There is another, almost identical portrait known, also in a broad crystal bottle and bearing precisely the same inscription and date (Curtis 1980, p. 33, figs. 43 and 44, also in Sotheby's, New York, 15 September 1998, lot 145). The two are astonishingly similar, right down to the tiny break in the line of the lower edge of the fur hat where it meets the forehead and to the folds and fading out of colours in the jacket. Ma produced two portraits of the Xuantong emperor in 1911 under circumstances related by Ma Zengshan in Inside-Painted Snuff Bottle Artist Ma Shaoxuan, but the two are taken from different photographs and the child-emperor wears different clothing, whereas here everything is identical right down to the month of the year. If a second portrait was commissioned in response to the first, it would be unlikely to be produced in the same month, suggesting that an exact pair was ordered in the first place and both completed within the tenth month of 1907, perhaps to be presented to two friends of Duanfang's. Whatever the reason, it only increases the enigma of Ma Shaoxuan's art. Although one is an exact replica of the other, both are masterpieces and the artist was obviously committed completely to each one. Not once in either portrait or inscription does his hand or concentration falter for a moment; indeed, the calligraphy on both is exemplary and of his very finest. There is no doubt that when Ma did his portraits he was fully aware of the importance of pleasing his influential clients, and this inspired him in every case to extraordinary feats of concentration, even to the point of allowing him to precisely copy himself and get away with it artistically, which is no mean feat!

    Duanfang (1861–1911) was of Chinese ancestry but his family had become Manchu subjects in the late Ming period, and Duanfang was a member of the Plain White Banner. His forebears had served the Manchus well and were never far from court, so Duanfang was quickly elevated to official positions after attaining his juren degree in 1882. He served in many official posts, again, never far from the court, and in 1905 was one of a number of high officials despatched overseas to study systems of government. He was received at the White House in 1906, having sailed to America via Japan. Shortly thereafter, the group sailed again for Europe, where they paid formal visits to Germany, Russia, and Italy, and travelled in France and England. They returned to China after an absence of several months to propose that China needed to adopt some constitutional form of government. Duanfang resumed his spiralling official career. His tragedy was to have been in charge of the newly nationalized Guangzhou–Hangzhou–Chengdu railway system when the people of Sichuan rebelled against the proposed construction. The Governor-General of Sichuan memorialized the throne to object to the construction but was opposed by Duanfang. Given the rank of acting Governor-General of Sichuan, Duanfang was dispatched to calm the situation. When he reached Sichuan, an anti-Qing revolution broke out at Wuchang; a month later the people of Sichuan established an independent government at Chengdu. Duanfang, heading imperial troops to suppress the revolution and without proper military training, fared badly: his own troops mutinied in sympathy with the people of Sichuan and, after chopping off Duanfang's ears, they murdered him. Duanfang was an aesthete and a connoisseur and collected antiquities, including ancient bronzes, many of which, we are informed by Curtis, are now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

    The inscription is the beginning of a composition engraved on an early Tang stele, entitled 'Ode to the Sweet Spring at the Palace of Nine Achievements,' written by Ouyang Xun (557–641):

    An excerpt:

    During the first month of summer in the sixth year of the Zhenguan period (632) the emperor [Taizong] moved to the Palace of Nine Achievements for his summer retreat. This was formerly the Sui [emperor's] Palace of Benevolence and Longevity. Halls were erected atop the hills. The flow of torrents was stopped to form pools.

    Apart from the use of vermilion colour for the seals, Ma has also used white paint here for the fur trim on Duanfang's jacket; sometimes he simply left blank space to act as white, but this is one of a few cases in which he employed white pigment.


    無瑕 水晶、墨、水色;平唇,平面斂底,突出凸形圈足;一正面內畫端方肖像, 另一正面內書魏徵撰《九成宮醴泉銘》一段,其右書"丁未冬十月",其後書"馬少宣"一款,其下落白文"少宣"篆印
    壺﹕ 1740~1907年
    畫﹕馬少宣,北京牛街, 1907年冬
    高﹕ 6.15 厘米
    口經/唇經: 0.51/1.79 及 1.65 厘米 (橢圓形)
    蓋﹕ 硬玉; 玻璃座


    Lilla S. Perry
    Bob C. Stevens
    蘇富比, 紐約,1982年6月25日,拍賣品號 219
    Eric Young
    Sotheby's 倫敦, 1989年4月24日,拍賣品號 123

    Perry 1960, 頁 136, 編號 132
    Stevens 1976, 編號 1022
    《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》(JICSBS), 1975年6月, 頁 16~17
    Chinese Snuff Bottles and Dishes, 編號 291
    Art at Auction 1982, 頁 360
    《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》(JICSBS), 1989年秋期,頁 26
    Art at Auction 1989, 頁 288
    E & O Magazine (unpaginated)
    Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, 編號 341
    Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, 編號 295
    Arts of Asia, 1997年3月~4月, 頁 152, 編號 295
    Ma Zengshan 1997, 頁 55, 圖40
    Treasury 4, 編號 592

    Mikimoto Hall, Tokyo, 1978
    香港藝術館,1994年3 月~6月
    National Museum of Singapore, 1994年11月~1995年2月

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  1. Daniel Lam
    Specialist - Whisky
    Hong Kong
    Hong Kong
    Work +852 3607 0004
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