An inside-painted crystal 'portrait of Zhang Cengju' snuff bottle
Ma Shaoxuan, Ox Street district, Beijing, 19201932 (the bottle: 17601932) 6.2cm high.
Treasury 4, no. 608
水晶內畫張曾榘肖像鼻煙壺 壺﹕1760～1932 內畫：馬少宣，北京牛街，1920～1932
An inside-painted portrait snuff bottle
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 Colonel Zhang Cengju, standing in full military dress, his hand on the hilt of his sword, the other main side inscribed in regular script with a rhyming couplet preceded by 'A keepsake for Master Tiehou' and followed by the signature Ma Shaoxuan and one seal of the artist, Shaoxuan, in negative seal script Bottle: 17601932 Painting: Ma Shaoxuan, Studio for Listening to the Qin, Ox Street district, Beijing, 19201932 Height: 6.2 cm Mouth/lip: 0.50/1.72 cm Stopper: coral; pearl finial; vinyl collar
Condition: Bottle: the mouth is possibly slightly polished down. There are chips of approximately 0.3cm long to the inner lip and a tiny chip of less than 0.1cm to the outer lip. Painting: studio condition
Provenance: Sotheby's, New York, 1 July 1985, lot 177 Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1985)
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993 Christie's, London, 1999
Emily Byrne Curtis identified the sitter here as Zhang Lanzhun, providing as evidence a photograph of the colonel in full military dress (Emily Byrne Curtis, 'Chinese Snuff Bottle Portraits. A Supplement,' JICSBS, Autumn 1985, p. 133, fig. 8). She made an error in her original Wade-Giles transcription (Chang Lan-chun instead of Chang Lan-chün), which naturally led to an error in the pinyin, in which the name should be written Zhang Lanjun. Treasury 4 introduced a further error by writing the name Lanzhuan. The characters for the name under the picture in Curtis's article are correct, but they are the characters for his given name, Cengju. Lanjun is the subject's courtesy name, but it is likely that colonel Chang went by his courtesy name, as sometimes was the practice in China. Thus, a document in a compilation of British Foreign Office papers for the years 1919 1920 says that 'the chief of police [in Harbin], Chang Lan Chun, is typical of his kind, which delights in the thought and exercise of authority over the white man....' Just to keep us on our toes, some Chinese sources write the courtesy name with different characters, with a slight difference in pronunciation: Nanjun.
Zhang Cengju, zi Lanjun, held several high administrative posts in the northeastern region of China, including the xian in which Harbin is located (1915 1919), and he appears to have been well regarded. We have found no other images of him, so the model Ma Shaoxuan followed still eludes us. In 1915, when he was magistrate of Yilan county, he was awarded a sixth-rank medal for his services in disaster relief, attracting settlers, and so forth. In July 1919, when he was magistrate of Binjiang county, he was given the same medal, and it was 'later' upgraded to a fifth-rank medal. On the chest of the man portrayed on this bottle, the medal whose ribbon that has the darker stripe in the middle of the ribbon and white stripes down both edges is the medal Zhang was awarded 'later'. Future research may identify the five-petal medal next to it, perhaps enabling us to confirm that this is Zhang Cengju. This particular system of medals was abolished in 1927, but that does not mean the sitter could not have worn his medals after that date, so we shall retain our broad dating range.
The inscription may be translated:
Mind of ice-like purity: pure and cool is the realm within his breast; On the surface and within him, bright all the way through: the glory of the nation.
Tiehou, for whom the bottle was made, remains unidentified.
The writing here is typical of Ma's portraits and became a standard for his finest works from the early 1900s onwards. It is characterized by extreme elegance. The characters are written with thin, supremely confident strokes, and the balance and energy are impeccable throughout the inscription. This level of calligraphy graces the portrait bottles that have inscriptions but was also carried over into the finest of his other works on a regular basis.
Ma uses white paint extensively and very obviously in this portrait, although in conjunction with his standard, more subtle washes for the jacket.