Zhou Leyuan, dated 1891 (the bottle 1740-1850) 6.5cm high.
Treasury 4, no. 496
水晶內畫山水鼻煙壺 壺： 1740-1850 內畫： 周樂元，北京，1891年
Longevity and Success
Crystal, ink, and water-colours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; painted with a continuous landscape scene with the sun above two ancient pines with lingzhi growing beneath them and drifting mist, waterfalls, and mountain pools beyond, inscribed in draft script 'For the pure appreciation of the Prefect of Purple Brasenia, painted at the capital in the eleventh month of the year xinmao by Zhou Leyuan,' with one seal of the artist, yuan yin ('seal of yuan'), in negative seal script Bottle: 17401850 Painting: Zhou Leyuan, Studio of Lotus-root Fragrance, Xuannan, Beijing, eleventh month, 1891 Height: 6.5 cm Mouth/lip: 0.68/2.17 and 2.05 cm (oval) Stopper: amethyst; vinyl collar
Condition: Material: flawless except for a crack-like natural flaw about .6 x .4 cm, not disturbing; small chips removed from inner lip, leaving slight irregular concavity. Painting: insignificant, very slight snuff staining inside; otherwise in studio condition
Provenance: Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1986)
Published: Kleiner 1987, no. 269 JICSBS, Spring 1988, front cover Galeries Lafayette 1990, p. 11, fig. 6 Treasury 4, no. 496
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Galeries Lafayette, Paris, April 1990 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993
Commentary: The surname of the Prefect of Purple Brasenia is probably Fu, according to the headnote to a funerary duilian (parallel inscription) by Hu Zhongsheng (18621910) in Hu Fujun 2002, but nothing further is known of him at this time.
This is one of Zhou's great masterpieces. Painted in what we may presume to be an earlier crystal bottle (a masterpiece in its own right), it is by far the most compelling of all Zhou's pine-tree-in-landscape subjects. It is not just an idyllic landscape. Here there are no scholars strolling toward their imaginary, ideal country retreats, no servant with a musical instrument, or ferryman waiting patiently in his boat to carry the aesthete wherever he may choose to go. This is high-mountain wilderness where ancient pines grow undisturbed and lingzhi can mature in peace without fear of the Daoist's hoe. Its meaning is symbolic. The pines and lingzhi represent longevity (see under no. 466) and the sun, success in an official career. The sun at its height is seen as symbolizing the highest level of achievement in one's career, bright and glowing and spreading warmth downwards, while a rising sun implies a successful path to this pinnacle. The sun has been painted without any colour whatsoever, giving it its apparent yellowish glow entirely by painting a pale, cloudy wash of grey-blue around it, strengthening near the orb. It might be mistaken for the moon, but if we imagine the bottle full of snuff, with its yellowish brown colour filling the colourless orb, its identity would be less ambiguous. When interpreting subject matter, or even other details of inside-painted snuff bottles, it is always worth remembering that they were designed to be filled with snuff, thus adding a coloured ground to any transparent bottle. This colour might be brown, reddish-brown, yellow, off-white, or even a greenish colour, depending upon the brand, quality and condition of the snuff.
It is worth examining what qualifies this as one of Zhou's great masterpieces since we have been at pains to point out frequently that all of his mature works are of an extraordinary artistic standard and as such, this is no different from the last pine-filled landscape. Art is much more than technique, however, and there are other qualities here that breathe magic into the painting and, thence, into the soul. The bottle itself is extraordinary, which adds a considerable dimension to the painting. Unlike so many of the bottles Zhou painted, which must have been made in a standardized form for him and thus became a neutral surface, the medium here is exciting in its own right, being a lovely early crystal bottle of impeccable shape, superbly hollowed and with great presence. It is also on a grander scale than usual, being almost fifty percent wider than his average glass bottle, thus allowing for a greater sweep of landscape. Finally, the subject is unusual. However fine the painting, if an artist creates a series of standard images of similar subjects and then suddenly does just one that is quite unlike all the others, it catches the eye, which is the first imperative of visual art. However profound the inner languages, if the work of art fails to catch the eye in the first place, they will lie fallow. The combination of these three additional qualities is what sets this bottle apart.
In taking advantage of the additional scope provided by the wider crystal bottle, Zhou has produced his finest painting of pines in the landscape, with two magnificent, ancient trees forming a network of foreground, shared only by a grassy knoll and the delightfully emphasized fungi, painted with sepia colours which are, along with the green of the pine needles, the only emphatic colours used. Beyond this network of trunks and branches lies a magnificent panorama of wilderness partially hidden in drifting clouds, with streams and waterfalls tumbling down to lakes, all of which is viewed from the lofty perspective of the grassy knoll on which the two pines grow.