An inside-painted glass 'Cao Cao' snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan family, dated 1914
Lot 70
An inside-painted glass 'Cao Cao' snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan family, dated 1914
Sold for HK$ 96,000 (US$ 12,386) inc. premium
Auction Details
An inside-painted glass 'Cao Cao' snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan family
Lot Details
An inside-painted glass 'Cao Cao' snuff bottle
Ma Shaoxuan family, dated 1914
5.38cm high.

Footnotes

  • Treasury 4, no. 595

    玻璃內畫曹操鼻煙壺
    馬少宣家族,1914年作

    An inside-painted 'Cao Cao' snuff bottle

    ('Cao Cao Pleads for Mercy')

    Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed, convex foot surrounded by a protruding, rounded footrim; painted on one main and two narrow sides with Cao Cao on a white horse pleading for mercy from Guan Yu at a rocky pass, the other main side inscribed with a poetic description of the event in regular script, preceded by the date 'Executed in an autumn month in the year jiayin at the capital' and followed by the signature Ma Shaoxuan, with one seal of the artist, Shaoxuan, in negative seal script
    Family of Ma Shaoxuan, Beijing, autumn, 1914
    Height: 5.38 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.5 cm
    Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

    Condition: Bottle: very minor surface wear. Painting: studio condition

    Provenance:
    Drouot (Millon-Jutheau), Paris, 6 November 1983, lot 61
    Belfort Collection (1986)

    Published:
    Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 2, p. 19, Pl. F
    Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 340
    Treasury 4, no. 595

    Exhibited:
    Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
    National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
    Christie's, London, 1999

    Commentary
    This is one of the family's masterpieces of the decorative style. Basically an illustration for a popular book, the style is well suited to the subject. The Sanguo yanyi ('Romance of the Three Kingdoms') is a novel about the contentions among the three rival kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu. The poem relates an event from the novel:

    Having been defeated, Cao Man fled by way of Huarong,
    Where he and Guan Yu could not avoid confronting each other.
    Bound by ties of mutual affection established in earlier times,
    [Guan was obliged to] open the metal lock to set free this kraken.

    The first line refers to Cao Cao (155–220) by his childhood name, A-man. In 208, Cao Cao, who was to become founder of the state of Wei during the ensuing Three Kingdoms period, retreated to his headquarters at Xuchang by way of Huayong after he had lost a major battle at Red Cliff. However, his plan had already been anticipated by Zhuge Liang (181–234), who sent troops ahead to lie in wait for Cao and, although knowing Guan Yu (d. 219) had personal connections with Cao Cao, assigned him to capture Cao Cao on the basis of Guan Yu's pledge of unflinching loyalty. When Cao Cao was escorted home by his remaining seventy-two military personnel, he was ambushed by Guan Yu and his soldiers. Cao pleaded with Guan to spare his life by reminding Guan of the kindness he had shown him in former times. Guan was moved and set him free, much to the consternation of Zhuge Liang when he learned of Cao's escape.

    Ma's nephew, Ma Shaoxian, painted subjects similar to this, and the rocks and trees growing on them are very much in his best style. We know that by the early twentieth century, Shaoxian (Ma's nephew, who we believe worked with him in his studio for most of his career) could write long inscriptions in regular script in the style of his uncle, although not as well, and this may have been his work under Shaoxuan's signature. There are certain distinctive similarities between this and known works of 1914 by Shaoxian. This is particularly noticeable in the signature and the writing of the first and second characters.

    One problem we have is that although we can perhaps identify the hand of Ma Shaoxian in this painting, we have little or no stylistic reference for Ma's brothers who trained in the art, and for his son, all of whom seem to have devoted their entire careers, the lengths of which are also unknown, working under their more prominent relative's signature. With Ma Shaoxian, however, we have a body of dated works, and may be able to get closer to identifying his paintings under Shaoxuan's name. Shaoxian may have been the best of the family painters other than Shaoxuan himself, which prompted him presumably to work under his own name so often, but we have no real evidence to support this supposition. Ma's brothers and son may have been equally skilled and quite willing to sublimate their own art for the commercial ends of the family business.

    玻璃內畫曹操鼻煙壺

    玻璃、墨、水彩顏料;凹唇,凸斂底,突出圓棱圈足;一面內雲長放曹操圖,另一面內書《三國》第五十回中的一首詩:曹瞞兵敗走華容,正與關公狹路逢。只為當初恩義重,放開金鎖走蛟龍,後加"於京師作,馬少宣"和白文"少宣"篆印,有首引"甲寅秋月"
    或為馬紹先畫,北京,1914年秋
    高:5.38 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.52/1.5 厘米
    蓋: 碧璽; 乙烯基座

    狀態敘述: 壺:微乎其微的磨耗。內畫:出齋狀態

    來源:
    Drouot (Millon-Jutheau), Paris, 6 November 1983, 拍賣品號 61
    Belfort Collection (1986)

    文獻:
    Chinese Snuff Bottles 編號 2, p. 19, Pl. F
    Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, 編號 340
    Treasury 4, 編號 595

    展覽:
    Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
    National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
    Christie's, London, 1999

    說明
    馬少宣的侄兒,馬紹先,愛畫的題材很像本壺的,他楷書題文也跟馬少宣的差不多,這件鼻煙壺有可能是紹先的作品。

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