An inside-painted glass 'horse and landscape' snuff bottle
Gui Xianggu, Beijing, dated 1898 6.29cm high.
Treasury 4, no. 572
An inside-painted '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 in a rocky garden setting, the other main side with a horse standing at the edge of an expanse of water with distant, cloud-enshrouded mountains, inscribed in draft script, 'Executed at the capital in the fourth month of the year wuxu by Ma Shaoxuan', with two token seals Gui Xianggu, Beijing, probably the fourth month, 1898 Height: 6.29 cm Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.65 cm Stopper: glass; vinyl collar
Condition: Bottle: tiny insignificant chip, inner lip; slight stress mark in centre of foot from blowing process. Painting: possible very slight fading of some original colouring. General relative condition: excellent
Provenance: S. K. Chung (1980) Gerd Lester (1986)
Published: Treasury 4, no. 572
Exhibited: Christie's, London, 1999
Although signed with the name of Ma Shaoxuan, this is clearly the work of Gui Xianggu. Gui, as usual, has made no attempt whatsoever to sublimate his own powerful style and palette to that of the artist he purports to be copying and it is doubtful if such a painting would have fooled anyone familiar with inside-painted snuff bottles in Beijing in the 1890s. The horse here is taken from Zhou Leyuan, or perhaps the more common Ye Zhongsan versions, while the representation of the Qiao sisters is entirely in the style of Gui himself. What would prompt him to add the signature of Ma Shaoxuan is a mystery, particularly since Ma was himself active throughout the career of Gui Xianggu.
We may assume that the Qiao sisters were intended as the subject here. The women in the garden have the clothing and hair-styles that appear on lot 12 in this sale, which is a standard image of the Qiao sisters. However, it would be just like the inventive Gui for him to borrow that image and reset the two women in a garden with no greater intention than to depict beauties enjoying the delights of nature.
The colour here is typical of Gui, with the predominant pale purple colour appearing on both sides combined with a brick-coloured orange and white, which together with a pale wash of orange-brown and ink make up his primary palette. The combination of the purple and orange is quite bold and rather effective, and it is obvious that he used the palette as a sort of trademark, as time and time again the colours turn up, whether wholly appropriate or not. The horse, for instance, has bright orange hooves, and its body, the foreground, and distant mountains beyond are all washed in purple.