An inside-painted crystal 'landscape' snuff bottle
Gan Xuanwen, Lingnan school, 18101825 5.39cm high.
Treasury 4, no. 459
An inside-painted 'landscape' snuff bottle
Crystal, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and protruding concave foot surrounded by a flattened footrim; painted on one main side with a scholar in fisherman's garb and boat in the reeds beneath an overhanging cliff, with sailing boats visible beyond the reeds and the river valley stretching into the distance between towering peaks, with rooftops nestling in their foothills, the narrow sides with two vignettes, one of orchids, the other of bamboo, both growing beside rocks, the other main side with a poem in regular script with a strong clerical-script flavour Gan Xuanwen, Lingnan school, 18101825 Height: 5.39 cm Mouth/lip: 0.55/1.50 cm Stopper: tourmaline; vinyl collar
Condition: Bottle: tiny flake chip to outer lip, and two other areas of practically imperceptible chips on outer lip rim; two areas of chipping on outer footrim; two tiny chips to the edge of one side panel and two minute chips to the base of the front panel. Painting: slight fading of colours; otherwise, in unusually good condition for a Lingnan school bottle
Provenance: Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (circa 1969) Heflene Collection Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1985)
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993 Christie's, Londong, 1999
The poem quoted here was composed by the Tang poet Sikong Shu (fl. 766) and is entitled 'On the River Village.' It reads:
I stop fishing and come home, but don't tie up my boat; Over the river village the moon is setting: it is time to sleep. Even if the wind blows all night and takes my boat away, It will remain among the flowers of the reeds, by the shallow waters.
Some readers may notice that the poem is transcribed in simplified characters. However, this does not mean the bottle was painted after these became the official forms in mainland China in several rounds in the 1950s and 1960s! All of the characters are attested in pre-modern texts, usually as 'vulgar' (cf. vulgate) variants. For the tiny space within a snuff bottle, they have obvious advantages.
The painting is in remarkably good condition, with all of the original colours still visible and the subtlety of the washes and brushwork plain to read. It is a strange departure from Gan's usual practice insofar as it has no signature or seals. Even his unsigned works normally have at least token seals, whereas here there is nothing. He has absorbed himself in the personality of Sikong Shu. He has become his image, so no signature is necessary. To learn the name of the artist, step into the picture and ask the man in the boat.