An inside-painted glass 'Qiao sisters' snuff bottle Gui Xianggu, Beijing, dated 1897
Lot 12
An inside-painted glass 'Qiao sisters' snuff bottle Gui Xianggu, Beijing, dated 1897
Sold for HK$ 87,500 (US$ 11,290) inc. premium
Lot Details
An inside-painted glass 'Qiao sisters' snuff bottle
Gui Xianggu, Beijing, dated 1897
5.96cm high.

Footnotes

  • Treasury 4, no. 571

    玻璃內畫喬家姊妹鼻煙壺
    桂香谷,北京,1897年作

    An inside-painted glass 'Qiao sisters' snuff bottle

    Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with the two Qiao sisters seated on a bed reading a book together, one of them holding a leaf-shaped fan across her shoulder, the other main side inscribed in regular script with an inscription of sixty-four characters followed by 'Executed in the eighth month of the year dingyou by Gui Xianggu'
    Gui Xianggu, Beijing, eighth month, 1897
    Height: 5.96 cm
    Mouth/lip: 0.71/1.8 cm
    Stopper: carnelian; nephrite finial; vinyl collar

    Condition: Bottle: Two miniscule chips to the outer lip and a chip to the outer footrim. Painting: studio condition. General relative condition: very good

    Provenance:
    Hong Kong dealer (1966)
    Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
    Sotheby's, London, 11 October 1974, lot 71
    Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
    Sotheby's, New York, 3 November 1982, lot 294
    Robert Hall
    Drouot (Millon-Jutheau), Paris,
    2 July 1984, lot 60
    Belfort Collection (1986)

    Published:
    JICSBS, March 1980, back cover (reversed)
    JICSBS, June 1980, back cover (corrected)
    Treasury 4, no. 571

    Exhibited:
    Christie's, London, 1999

    Gui Xianggu was one of the many artists who rose to prominence in the wake of Zhou Leyuan and, like so many of them, he seems to have begun by copying Zhou's works. Since Gui used his own signature first in 1893 and must have known of Ye Zhongsan and Zhou Leyuan early in his career, and since the style here is obviously very tentative and experimental, it may actually be a correct date.

    Whatever name Gui used in these early bottles with false signatures, he never made any attempt to hide his own evolving style, which became very distinctive, or his own palette which was unique among the inside-painted artists, with its dominant use of a pale purple colour in most of his works. Although unquestionably a commercial artist, he is one of the most intriguing. He was also capable of excellent work when he put his mind to it, as is demonstrated by the few bottles in this collection and many more on record. Gui worked under his own signature from 1893 to 1901, and we have 60 recorded works from him, if we include the two with spurious signatures. Most of his bottles were dated, and he seems to have been particularly productive in the years 1899 and 1900.

    He borrowed subject matter freely from a range of artists, but he was a very individualistic artist with a strong style of his own, who also introduced a number of fresh subjects to the genre. It is also clear that, when borrowing from others, he was usually very creative in rethinking the work of art. The present bottle is an excellent example of this, where a subject borrowed, we may assume, from Ma Shaoxuan (who painted it first in 1894) is linked to its origins only by the subject on one side, and by the long inscription on the other in a style referring to Ma's output. What is more, Gui varied his different versions of this subject, of which there are several, quite considerably. Unlike with Ma, no two are ever the same composition, and clearly Gui was an artist who liked to re-invent each subject as he painted it, another factor that makes him one of the most intriguing of the artists from this period.

    For the subject of the Qiao sisters, see Sale 4, lot 40.

    The inscription has the irregular line length of a lyric (ci) or aria (qu), but it ends in a long line that rhymes with nothing, which would be impossible in any form of traditional poetry in China. It is possible that Gui Xianggu broke off the inscription before the end of whatever composition he was copying; this happens fairly regularly on snuff bottles. But it may be his own work, for we have not found a source for it. The inscription does not refer to the Qiao sisters, although it does contain one allusion to an event involving the husband of the younger sister, General Zhou Yu, who was an expert in music. Even if Zhou Yu were seemingly paying no attention to the music at a banquet, if the musicians made a mistake, he picked it up and inevitably looked around at them. Whether the writer meant this to be an allusion to Zhou Yu specifically or used the reference to 'turning around to look at the tune' in its general meaning of 'musical appreciation' is unclear.

    The composition sees in the corn poppy certain famous events around the founding of the Han dynasty, hundreds of years before the Qiao sisters lived. Xiang Yu, who had toppled the Qin dynasty but failed to establish a stable and defensible state in its place, was pursued to a place on the Yangzi River called Wujiang, where he found himself surrounded by an army led by Liu Bang, the eventual founder of the Han dynasty. He refused to cross to safety, lamenting that he could not face the families of the thousands of young men who had followed him and lost their lives. According to some accounts, he committed suicide there after making a last stand. Before the final battle, he sang a lament for his consort, Yu, who danced for him one last time. Her name, Yumeiren (the Beauty Yu), is also the name of the corn poppy, and the inscription turns on this fact. One more note: Chu in this context refers to the area from which Xiang Yu had raised his army and headed north toward the Qin capital, and it was known for its beautiful women and dances.

    We break our translation into stanzas to show where the original changes rhymes:

    When a hero's ambition is crushed, he pities the boys and girls; (nü)
    When he sang 'Oh, Yu,' his tears fell like rain. (yu)
    Can it be that the blossoming branch is the spirit of the beauty,
    Still learning to dance with lightly floating steps in the style of Chu? (wu)

    The old regrets at Wujiang--- (jiang)
    The fresh makeup of Chu. (zhuang)
    Tender, it must be dreaming;
    Sad, its heart is about to break. (chang)
    It seems to turn its head when the singer errs;
    How could it stop being fragrant when no one is there? (fang)

    When [Liu Bang's] strength was enough to pluck up mountains and his vital energy overspread the world. (no rhyme)

    This is one of Gui's masterpieces and one of his finer bottles in general, since the unusually broad form and fat shape have allowed him more scope to be expansive, to which he has responded with the finest version of a subject he painted several times.

    玻璃內畫喬家姊妹鼻煙壺

    玻璃,墨,水彩;; 凹唇, 凸斂底,突出圈足,圈足底為一圓棱; 一正面內畫二喬圖,一正面內書詠虞美人、劉邦等的雜體文,後加"丁酉八月桂香谷作"
    桂香谷,北京,1897年八月
    高﹕ 5.96 厘米
    口徑/唇徑: 0.71/1.8 厘米
    蓋﹕紅白玉髓;閃玉頂飾;乙烯基座

    狀態敘述: 壺:唇外沿有兩個微小缺口,圈足外沿則有一個。內畫:出齋狀況。一般性相對的狀態:很好

    來源:
    香港董商 (1966)
    Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
    倫敦蘇富比, 1974年10月11日,拍賣品號 71
    Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
    紐約蘇富比, 1982年11 月3日,拍賣品號 294
    羅伯特.霍爾
    Drouot (Millon-Jutheau), Paris, 1984年7月2日,拍賣品號 60
    Belfort Collection (1986)

    文獻﹕
    《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》,1980年3月,封底(負像)
    《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》,1980年6月,封底(改正)
    Treasury 4, 編號 571

    展覽﹕
    倫敦佳士得,1999年

    桂香谷也是繼承周樂元的內畫家之一,跟很多的同仁一樣,他好像最初是模倣周的作品的,1893年才開始署自己的名字。本壺的筆墨似乎是嘗試性的;因此,丁酉年很可能是真實的年份。

    本壺的題句是長短句,像詞或散曲,但最後一句不壓韻。桂香谷也許是截去了所抄寫的作品的後部,這在鼻煙壺上是常見的事。但是我們還沒找到此文的來源,也許是桂香谷自行撰寫的。可是如果是特為這件鼻煙壺撰寫的,為何以非韻文一句結束?待考。

    這題句跟喬家姊妹沒有關係。"似有誤而顧曲"固然會讓人聯想周郎顧曲,但這一句並不是指周瑜 。

    為了藏家的方便,我們錄全文於下。

    英雄失意憐兒女(韻)
    虞兮一歌淚如雨(韻)
    花枝莫是美人魂
    猶自仙仙學楚舞(韻)
    烏江舊恨
    楚國新妝(換韻)
    柔應懷夢
    悽欲斷腸(韻)
    似有誤而顧曲
    豈無人而不芳(韻)
    當其力拔山,氣蓋世(無韻)
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