An inside-painted glass 'playing cats' snuff bottle
Family of Ma Shaoxuan, Beijing, dated 1899 3.78cm high.
Treasury 4, no. 584
An inside-painted 'playing cats' snuff bottle
Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a rounded footrim; painted on one main side with two cats playing amorously, entitled in regular script 'Picture of a Happy Pair', the other main side inscribed in regular script with a poem followed by '[Inscribed by] Ma Shaoxuan in the ninth month of the year jihai', followed by one seal of the artist, shao, in negative seal script Family of Ma Shaoxuan, Beijing, ninth month, 1899 Height: 3.78 cm Mouth/lip: 0.44/1.15 cm Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar
Condition: Bottle: some slight abrasion from use; otherwise, workshop condition. Painting: studio condition
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993 British Museum, London, JuneNovember 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997 Christie's, London, 1999
If, as we believe, Ma had a workshop of family members producing bottles under his name from time to time, it is not at all clear to what extent a certain artist would specialize in a particular subject, as the Ye Family seems to have done. It would certainly make sense, if one member of the family had mastered a particular subject, for that person to produce it whenever needed, although it is possible that Ma devised the first version. No. 626 in Treasury 4 is another version of this subject painted. It is inscribed by Ma Shaoxian, providing us with a clue as to which other family member might have painted this subject under Ma Shaoxuan's signature. Also, the calligraphy here is not up to Shaoxuan's usual standards. We believe that Ma Shaoxian's calligraphy might have passed for his uncle's to the unwary, nevertheless.
Ma Shaoxuan, or his family workshop, produced a number of miniature bottles, probably more than any other artist, although Meng Zishou and the Ye family produced some. As a rule, he does not seem to have taken them so seriously, and many are of the simple, decorative group of paintings that may have been turned out by family members. It is possible that the scale did not appeal to him and he allowed other family members to produce most of them, but this is a particularly good example made the more impressive by its excellent condition.
The poem appeared also on lot 18 in this Sale, a bottle painted by Ding Erzhong. It is 'Paid a Visit to a Recluse but Missed Seeing Him', composed by Jia Dao (circa 793865). Once more, our translation:
Below the pines I asked the boy, Who said the master had gone to gather herbs. 'He's within this mountain, that's all; The clouds are deep and I don't know where.'