An inside-painted rock-crystal 'Jiang Yanxing' snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, 1915–1925
Lot 9
An inside-painted rock-crystal 'Jiang Yanxing' snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, 1915–1925
Sold for HK$ 2,160,000 (US$ 278,706) inc. premium
Auction Details
An inside-painted rock-crystal 'Jiang Yanxing' snuff bottle Ma Shaoxuan, 1915–1925
Lot Details
An inside-painted rock-crystal 'Jiang Yanxing' snuff bottle
Ma Shaoxuan, 1915–1925
6cm high.

Footnotes

  • Treasury 4, no. 607

    水晶內畫蔣雁行鼻煙壺
    馬少宣,1915~1925

    An inside-painted rock crystal "Jiang Yanxing' snuff bottle

    ('Portrait of General Jiang Yanxing')

    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 General Jiang Yanxing in full military dress, the other main side inscribed in regular script with an inscription, preceded by 'For the pure appreciation of General Binchen, a sworn younger brother,' and followed by '[Inscription] composed and [bottle] presented by Shen Zhen, his sworn elder brother,' with one seal of the artist, Shaoxuan, in negative seal script
    Bottle: 1760–1925
    Painting: Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, 1915–1925
    Height: 6 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.5/1.75 cm
    Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar

    Condition: workshop condition

    Provenance:
    Lilla S. Perry
    Hugh Moss
    Belfort Collection (1986)

    Published:
    Perry 1960, p. 136, fig. 134
    Arts of Asia, July–August 1972, p. 17
    Arts of Asia, September–October 1978, p. 64
    Curtis 1980, p. 74, fig. 100
    Jutheau 1980, p. 70, figs. 1 and 2
    Kleiner 1987, no. 297
    Ma Zengshan 1997, p. 69, fig. 71
    Treasury 4, no. 607

    Exhibited:
    L'Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982
    Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
    Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
    Christie's, London, 1999

    Commentary
    We are grateful to Emily Byrne Curtis for both the identification and biographical detail of the subject of this portrait (Curtis 1980, pp. 72 and 73, available online here). She says his dates are unknown, and that is essentially correct. According to some sources, Jiang Yanxing died in 1941; others give the date of death as unknown. His date of birth is given variously as 1875, 1877, or 1882. He was among the first to be sent in 1901 to Shikan Gakko, the Military Officers' Academy in Japan, and specialized in infantry. When he returned to Beijing he joined the elite of the Beiyang Military Clique. At the time of the revolution, Jiang was the military governor of Suiyuan in Jiangbei and was among the forty Beiyang commanders who sent a telegram to the emperor requesting his abdication. In September 1914 he was called to Beijing and appointed to the College of Marshals. He was also named Director General for the Promotion of Military Standards.

    It seems unlikely that this portrait would have been painted prior to his taking
    up residence in Beijing in 1914, and Curtis illustrates a photograph of the Beiyang military leaders dated to 1917, which includes Jiang. It is difficult to judge from the photograph, but Jiang appears to be wearing fewer medals there than in this portrait, and his uniform is certainly less impressive. He also looks younger in the photograph than in this portrait, suggesting that the photograph from which this portrait was taken post-dates 1917.

    It seems rather unnecessary to extol the obvious qualities of Ma's portraits since they are all quite extraordinary. There is an intensity captured in every single one which, as we know, was not always present in the original photographs, and a piercing sense of personality. Regardless of how sympathetic a face we are presented with, these qualities are constant. This genre was obviously Ma's greatest achievement, and despite his other masterpieces there is no doubt that without the portraits of actors in costume and other celebrities of his day,
    Ma would have been looked upon quite differently today. With them we are able to see him, separated from the often rather damning efforts of family members signing his name on repetitive decoration, as a master of the art. This in turn elevates the finest of his other output and allows us to separate out the real Ma Shaoxuan — in theory at least if not, in every case, in practice—as one of the major artists in the medium.

    The inscription on the other main side of this bottle seems to be by Ma himself, or if not, then composed specifically for this portrait bottle by someone else, perhaps even the man credited with it on the bottle: Shen Zhen. Shen was a major in the infantry in 1914, but we have found little other information about him. The text is quite complex. It begins by making an obvious allusion to the inside-painted portrait.
    One leaves one's image within a bottle:
    And if he wants to see his form,
    He must look within and turn inside himself---
    Only then is the Ultimate Way apparent.
    This portion rhymes in lines 2 and 4, so we have formatted it as a poem. The second two lines are best understood and appreciated as an echo of a passage in the Wenzi, an ancient text that presents a mixture of Taoist and other schools of thought. 'The Way takes non-striving as its essence; look at it, and you do not see its form; listen for it, and you do not hear its voice—it is called the Obscure. But "The Obscure" is not the Way, it is how we speak of the Way. Now, [the man of] the Way looks within and turns inside himself.'

    This is immediately followed in the Wenzi by the statement that 'If people do not [claim] small enlightenment, there are no enormous errors; if they do not [possess only] small wisdom, there is no enormous stupidity.' This can be interpreted as meaning something along the lines of our English proverb, 'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing'. Another interpretation, one that fits in with the notion of the ineffability of the Way, is that clinging to one's limited understanding of the Way leads to the major error of never being able to realize total enlightenment. Whatever the meaning, the inscription on the bottle next quotes that Wenzi passage verbatim:

    [If one] does not [claim] small enlightenment, there are no enormous errors; if one does not [possess only] small wisdom, there is no enormous stupidity.

    The final two lines of the inscription may refer to General Jiang Yanxing, for the critical phrases can refer to people, although the pronouns in the original could refer to either a person or a thing.

    Employ him, and he becomes nourishing rains; reject him, and he hides away in a secret place.

    A person who improves the livelihood of the people can be said to act as seasonal or nourishing rains (linyu). In the last sentence, 'hide away in a secret place' (cang yu mi), is equivalent to the phrase 'retreat and hide away in a secret place' (tuicang yu mi), which recurs in texts from the Book of Changes on down. It is the idea of concealing one's tracks or, more abstractly, comprehending everything without revealing how much one knows. In a letter of 1868, General Zeng Guofan's message to his protégé Li Hongzhang included advice to 'retreat and hide away in a secret place' even as Li was receiving commendations from the court—and attracting the slander and criticism that come with notoriety.

    On another level, these final lined could refer to snuff: use it and sneeze (long, soaking rains); or don't use it and put it away for safekeeping. That is perhaps a topic for further (textual) research. Thanks mostly to having access to vast, searchable databases, we have made advances over the translations in Curtis 1980 and in Treasury 4, but we make no claim to have ferreted out the full or precise meaning of this text.

    水晶內畫蔣雁行鼻煙壺

    無瑕水晶、墨、水彩顏料;平唇,平斂底,突出圓棱圈足;一面內畫蔣雁行肖像,另一面內書一首絕句和贊文,引首為"賓臣將軍仁仲清賞",詩後加"如兄沈珍題贈",下落白文"少宣"篆印
    壺:1760–1925
    內畫:馬少宣,北京牛街,1915–1925年
    高:6 厘米
    口經/唇經:0.5/1.75 厘米
    蓋: 碧璽; 乙烯基座

    狀態敘述: 出作坊狀況

    來源:
    Lilla S. Perry
    Hugh Moss
    Belfort Collection (1986)

    文獻:
    Perry 1960, p. 136, fig. 134
    Arts of Asia, July–August 1972, p. 17
    Arts of Asia, September–October 1978, p. 64
    Curtis 1980, p. 74, fig. 100
    Jutheau 1980, p. 70, figs. 1 and 2
    Kleiner 1987, 編號 297
    Ma Zengshan 1997, p. 69, fig. 71
    Treasury 4, 編號 607

    展覽:
    L'Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982
    Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
    Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
    Christie's, London, 1999

    說明
    蔣雁行,字賓臣,生年或作1875年,或作1877年,或作1882年,卒年或作1941年,或作不明。在日本他1901年入士官學校步兵科,馬少宣一定是看著像片畫的,大概是1917年以後照的像片。蔣1916任綏遠都統, 1920年任參謀次長,1925年任十四省聯軍總參謀長1926年任陸軍部總長。

    本壺題詩好像是馬少宣作的,否則是沈珍作的,而沈珍現今鮮為人知的人物。 "壺中留影,欲見其形,內視自反,至道方明"好像是四言四句詩。
    下二句大概出於《文子 • 上德》:"老子曰,道以無有為體。視之不見其形,聽之 不聞其聲。謂之幽冥。幽冥者,所以論道而非道也。夫道者,內視而自反。"原文繼續說,"故人不小覺不大迷,不小慧不大愚。"本壺題文押韻以下的文本就引用這句。

    題文後二句大概是指蔣雁行,是說"霖雨蒼生新建國"之情;"藏於密" 或指古來"退藏於密"的觀念,又如曾國藩洞治七年八女初二日《復李鴻章》書云:"從此益宏偉度,渾涵圭角,有忍有容,退藏於密。古人所稱'勛績蓋世而人不忌,幾近之矣"

    或許,霖雨是指聞煙時打噴嚏飛沫,藏於密是指不聞鼻煙時則藏之於煙壺,待考。
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