An inside-painted glass 'Liaozhai zhiyi' snuff bottle
Ye Zhongsan, dated 1902 6.61cm high.
Treasury 4, no. 523
An inside-painted glass 'Liaozhai zhiyi' snuff bottle
Crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and flat foot surrounded by a protruding, broad, flat footrim; painted on each main side with illustrations from the Liaozhai zhiyi ('Strange Tales Recorded by the Studio of Idle Talk'), one side with Qiaoniang sitting on a rock with two women attendants just after they have discovered Fu Lian hiding in a tree, inscribed in clerical script with the title 'Qiaoniang,' the other side with Qingfeng, the fox spirit, standing behind her lover, Geng Qubing, who, at her behest, implores his acquaintance, Mo Sanlang, to let him have the black fox that Mo has caught, inscribed in clerical script with the title 'Qingfeng' followed in draft script by 'Executed by Ye Zhongsan at the capital in the second month of the year renyin,' with one seal of the artist, yin ('seal'), in negative seal script Ye Zhongsan, the Apricot Grove Studio, Chongwen district, Beijing, second month, 1902 Height: 6.61 cm Mouth/lip: 0.6/1.78 and 1.68 cm (oval) Stopper: glass; vinyl collar
Condition: Material: some icy flaws. Bottle: insignificant minor abrasion on outer footrim. Painting: studio condition
Provenance: Eldred's, East Dennis, MA, 27 August 1992, lot AL 146
Exhibited: Christie's, London, 1999
Published: Treasury 4, no. 523
Commentary This is another of Ye's masterpieces in the more subdued palette of his figure paintings between 1896 and 1905. It is also in a lovely crystal bottle, one that was probably commissioned by Ye or one of his patrons. It is thinner than the standard earlier plain form and has uncharacteristic detailing, particularly in the foot, which is unusually broad and much deeper than it would have been on an early plain bottle.
The story of Qiaoniang, or 'Clever Girl,' comes from juan 2 of the Liaozhai zhiyi (see discussion under lot 48). It is set in the southern province of Guangdong. Fu Lian lived apart from his family, devoting himself to his studies. One day he met a beautiful young woman, Huagu, with whom he became friends. She asked him to deliver a letter to the island of Hainan. Fu agreed to do so but in trying to find the address became lost, wandering into a deserted place where only a tomb was placed. Worried about wild animals, Fu climbed into a tree, from which vantage point his fear of being lost in a wild and deserted place was instantly dispelled when he looked down to see a garden in which a lovely girl sat on a rock, accompanied by two maids holding candles. Fu sensed something supernatural. Just then he was spotted by the trio. Huagu asked angrily how he dared spy on her from a tree and Fu explained about the letter and how he had become lost and climbed the tree for fear of wild animals. Qiaoniang found him likeable, and soon their acquaintance developed into a closer relationship. Fu Lian, regrettably, was impotent, a fact known to his circle of friends and his family. At this awkward turn of events, an older woman came along who turned out to be the proper recipient of the letter. Learning of Fu's plight she gave him a black pill, immediately curing him of his problem, whereupon he married the lovely Qiaoniang and Huagu as well, who had, by now, returned to Hainan, her native place. Fu Lian felt that he must return to his own family to explain his situation, so he left for his home. His mother was perplexed as to why he should marry these unearthly creatures, but was reminded of Fu's recovery of his potency, allowing him to continue the family line. With his mother's blessing, Fu returned to his island home on Hainan to find only a decaying house in the garden. The old woman told him that Qiaoniang had been dead for three days. At that, Fu went into the tomb crying out her name, asking her to come out and meet him again. Qiaoniang appeared with a baby. Asked whose baby she was holding, she replied that it was his. Fu then brought Qiaoniang and Huagu, together with the baby, back to his own home, where the child delighted his mother, turning out to be healthy and not at all ghostlike. The two girls turned out to be affectionate daughters-in-law and solicitous of their mother-in-law. The baby grew up to be a brilliant scholar and passed his first official examination at the age of fourteen.
There is a small group of Ye's finest figure subjects from the early years of the twentieth century in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where one has the same subject as this on one side (see JICSBS, Autumn 1982, p. 33, fig. 76a).
On the other side, the story of Qingfeng, or 'Green Fenghuang', comes from juan 1 of the Liaozhai zhiyi. It concerns a certain Geng Qubing, whose uncle had moved his family out of their house due to financial problems. A watchman left in charge of the house reported to the nephew the ghostly happenings. Returning to the almost-deserted family home, Geng met a family of ghosts. He forged a link with them through a coincidence that connected their two families and soon fell in love with Qingfeng, the daughter. Geng was already married, but in China where monogamy was only for the dirt-poor, this was no obstacle. However, his wife opted not to move back into the haunted mansion when Geng decided to do so in order to try to meet the ghosts again, so he moved in alone. After a while the patriarch of the ghostly family confronted Qubing, his face all black. Qubing immediately inked his own face to look like that of the spirit, and the ghost retired. Apparently, this was a serious error of ghostly etiquette, but young Geng had thoughts only for Qingfeng, whom he finally met again. She told him that the whole family was moving out because of his insult to her uncle, the patriarch. Qubing managed to persuade her to stay a little while with him, but soon the old man returned and ordered her to leave. Qubing then bought the house from his uncle in order to stay there, hoping that Qingfeng would return. One day, while observing the Qingming Festival, Qubing saw two little foxes being pursued by a dog. One escaped but the other was frozen in fear as the dog approached. Seeing Qubing, it ran to him and he took it home and cared for it. It was, of course, Qingfeng, the fox spirit herself. Since her maid, the fox who had escaped, would presume her lost and report her death to her family, she could stay with Qubing, looking upon it as fate. Two years had passed when the ghostly patriarch's son came to beseech Qubing's help. He explained that Qubing's friend, Mo Sanlang, would come on a fox hunt the following day and that the patriarch's life would be endangered unless Qubing helped. Qubing agreed to help, and sure enough the next day Mo Sanlang appeared with his entourage and had with them a wounded black fox. Qubing prevailed upon his friend to give it to him and they managed over the next few days to restore it to health, whereupon it became the patriarch, who was amazed to find Qingfeng alive and well and not dead as reported (fox spirits can be 'killed' under certain circumstances). All were reconciled and soon the whole family of ghosts moved in again and, to complete the happy ending, Qingfeng gave Geng Qubing a son.