Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with a landscape in which a scholar and a youth stand beneath ancient pines with other trees beyond, their tops hidden by drifting clouds, above which rise the peaks of distant mountains, inscribed with a poem in draft script followed by the signature Erzhong, and one seal of the artist, Ding, in negative regular script, the other main side with a group of auspicious objects (a natural rock sculpture, an Yixing teapot, peonies in a tripod censer with loose ring handles, a crackle-glazed vase with lingzhi, a branch of flowering prunus and another branch, inscribed in draft script 'Imitating the method of Baiyun waishi, Erzhong of the Lu River [painted this] in an autumn month in the year wuxu', with one seal of the artist, Erzhong, in negative seal script Ding Erzhong, Xuannan, Beijing, autumn, 1898 Height: 5.72 cm Mouth/lip: 0.60/1.52 cm Stopper: coral; vinyl collar
Condition: Bottle: There is a minor 0.3cm chip to the outer footrim. Painting: slight fading of the colours
Provenance: Kaynes-Klitz Collection Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 16 November 1989, lot 152
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994February 1995
The poem on the side painted with landscape is a famous one entitled 'Paid a Visit to a Recluse but Missed Seeing Him', composed by Jia Dao (circa 793865). It reads:
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.'
The painting obviously illustrates the poem, which has been much discussed, some readers even proposing that the boy is the master, having achieved a youthful appearance by ingesting those herbs. It is unusual for Ding to paint such heavily clouded scenery, but in this case the poem required it. The result is an unusual and compelling composition which is as poetic as the work of Jia Dao it illustrates. It is another of Ding's great landscape paintings from the mature period.
Baiyun waishi ('external secretary among the white clouds', the real-world office of external secretary being a drafter of proclamations for the emperor) was the literary name (hao) of Yun Shouping (1633 -- 1690), who painted flowers without outlines (cf. Sale 1, lot 132 and Sale 3, lot 109, the latter by Zhou Leyuan, whose influence is very evident here).
The Lu River is the major shipping canal between Beijing and Tianjin. Ding also identifies himself as a native of Lu River (he was born in Tongzhou, apparently) on a bottle in the Mullin Collection (Moss and Sargent 2012, no. 314) and in the title of his collected seal carvings, published in 1935, the year of his death and long after he had left Beijing for Nanjing.