An inside-painted glass 'Shen Zhou inspired' snuff bottle
Zhou Leyuan, the Studio of Thirty-six Memorials, probably Beijing, dated 1891 6.89cm high.
Treasury 4, no. 495
An inside-painted glass 'Shen Zhou inspired' snuff bottle
Glass; ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim; painted on one main side with a summer landscape scene in a mountainous countryside, with an inscription that reads, 'For the unsullied enjoyment of second older brother, the eminent Zhongqian, made at the Studio of Thirty-six Memorials on an autumn day in the xinmao year, patterned after the brushwork of Shitian, painted by Zhou Leyuan', and painted on the other side with a pond view of fish swimming below a fantastically attenuated rock stretching diagonally across the picture plane, softened by willow-like branches with abundant small, white flowers Zhou Leyuan, Studio of Thirty-six Memorials, probably Beijing, autumn 1891 Height: 6.89 cm Mouth/lip: 0.56/1.62 cm Stopper: tourmaline; gilt-metal collar
Condition: Bottle: workshop condition. Painting: Some fading of the fins of the two smaller golden fish; one eye's pupil has smudged out across the white; otherwise, immaculate studio condition
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993 Christie's, London, 1999
Zhongqian is probably the man who was the abbot of the important White Cloud Daoist Temple in Beijing from 1911 until his death, Chen Mingbin (1854 1936); we know of no other individual who used the courtesy name Zhongqian. Chen had been at the temple since 1882, gradually moving up in its governing hierarchy. In 1891, when this bottle was painted, he was elected inspector of commandments (jianjie). In 1900, it was he who dealt negotiated with the invading European allies to preserve the property of the temple and the people under its protection.
Zhou Leyuan's inscription identifies his inspiration as Shitian, which was the hao, or literary name, of Shen Zhou (14271509), the famous Suzhou scholar-painter of the mid-Ming period. This raises the question of inspiration in the works of Chinese artists, since Zhou acknowledged Wang Hui (1632 1707) with his mature landscapes on several occasions and Shen Zhou only this once. The snuff-bottle landscapes, which are stylistically indistinguishable from each other, are not, in fact, in the style of Wang Hui or of Shen Zhou, although closer to the former than the latter; they are in the style of Zhou Leyuan. Such acknowledgments to style in Chinese painting can be very flexible: If an artist looks at a painting by an earlier master and is merely inspired to paint, he might acknowledge the fact that he was inspired by such-and-such a painter, despite the fact that he followed neither the subject matter nor the style of that painter. He might acknowledge his debt if no more than the spirit of a particular artist inspired him, as Zhou seems to have done here.
This is the latest known bottle bearing the alternative studio name, Studio of Thirty-six Memorials, for which see Sale 3, lot 22. It is also the earliest example of the subject of fish in a pond, symbolising wealth (see under no. 488), combined with this distinctive diagonal rock. The subject of a rocky outcrop, sometimes wrapping around the bottle, with fish below and insects above was a common one in Zhou's later years. It can be traced back to his earlier career, but in those earlier works, however, it usually took the form of a natural rock sculpture combined with just insects. This version, with the rock almost vertical, is not seen until this bottle, and is otherwise known only in a single, undated example from the Dodge Collection recorded by Hugh Moss in 1965, although a hint of it can be seen in another example from the summer of 1887 with a continuous rocky bank and insects, one side of which is set at a forty-five degree angle.
Of all Zhou's landscapes from the mature period this is one of the most impressive and certainly the most colourful. This impression is given as much by the fact that Zhou was usually very subdued in his colours with his other landscapes, using only blue or green, a little sepia and ink for the main painting. Here he has included a unique pale, pastel blue where his usual blue is mixed with white. It is used on the willow in the foreground, the rooftop, and the distant line of mountains. This one additional colour, added to his usual palette, helps give the impression of a much more colourful work.
The other reason for that impression is that he uses both his usual blue and his usual green in association with each other, instead of limiting his palette to one or the other, as is his standard practice. The white blossoms also enliven the painting.
This painting is also in almost studio condition except for the tails of the vermillion fish, which are quite faded. The bottle has obviously been used to hold snuff, since there is still some of it sticking to the inside.
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