Glass, ink and water-colours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with two children playing with kites, one on the trunk of a leafless willow tree flying his over a body of water, with a distant waterfall and hills beyond, the other standing on the river bank, his kite under his arm, the other main side with a catfish, two mandarin fish and ten minnows among aquatic plants, inscribed in draft script 'Drawn by Shujiao at Old Zheng in a summer month of the year bingshen', with one seal of the artist, possibly Zhu, in negative seal script Zhu Zhanyuan, Gu Zheng (Henan province), 1896 Height: 6.3 cm Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.5 cm Stopper: glass; vinyl collar
Condition: Bottle: barely imperceptible chip to the outer lip, air bubble within the glass on the footrim, and an elongated air bubble on the side towards the top. Painting: slight fading of the colours and smudges to two characters of the inscription. General relative condition: good
Provenance: Sotheby's, Billingshurst, 25 June 1991, lot 304
Published: Treasury 4, no. 625
Exhibited: Christie's, London, 1999
One of the strangest cases of all among the inside-painted artists of the Beijing School of Zhou Leyuan is that of Zhu Zhanyuan. There are only eleven bottles recorded by him and, while he devoted his entire career to copying the style and much of the subject matter of Zhou Leyuan, he was a very competent artist who produced several excellent paintings.
His career seems to have run from 1896 to 1906, although the majority of the paintings are from the earlier period. There are four, including this one, from 1896, including one extraordinary quadruple rectangular crystal superbly painted with eight different subjects, mostly borrowed from Zhou Leyuan, although two are not known from Zhou's output, and all in his style. There are three bottles from 1897, one from 1899, one from 1900, and two from 1906. All are of very good quality, and some are masterly, including the quadruple bottle from 1896, which suggests he must have been training in the art for some time prior to that date. It is possible that he began to take up the art while Zhou was still alive, and perhaps even knew him.
No other artist devoted his career to painting in the style of Zhou Leyuan while signing his own name. That an artist of his obvious talents would have done so, however few bottles he painted during that career, seems quite extraordinary, but it is the case.
Although the name with which this bottle (and this bottle alone) is signed is Shujiao, we know beyond a doubt that it is the work of Zhu Zhanyuan. The subject of the boy up a tree flying a kite is one of his standard images, and the fish, in exactly this composition and style, appear on the quadruple bottle from 1896. Since there is no dedication to a third party here, there is no point in having a donor's name included, so we can assume that Shujiao is the courtesy name of Zhu Zhanyuan.
There are several relatively out-of-the-way places in China called Gu Zheng, or 'ancient Zheng', among them the site of the ancient capital of Zheng, southwest of Zhengzhou in Henan province. The bottle dated 1899 is signed 'Gu Zheng, Zhanyuan' the normal manner of stating one's place of origin (see Sotheby's, London, 11 October 1974, lot 52). Since others of his works are usually inscribed as having been made at the capital, including other works in the same year, and the present bottle is the only exception, he must have worked most of his life in Beijing with a visit to his home town in 1896, when he painted this example.