An inside-painted glass 'mounted Westerner' snuff bottle
Ziyizi, Beijing, probably circa 1900 Sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart 6.6cm high.
Treasury 4, no. 623
An inside-painted 'mounted Westerner' snuff bottle
Glass, ink, and watercolours; with a slightly concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; painted on one main side with a high-ranking Western soldier mounted on a horse, the other main side with a scene from the opera 'A Fisherman Kills a Family,' showing Xiao En fighting with the skilled fighter who had been sent to collect a tax Ziyizi, Beijing, probably circa 1900 Height: 6.6 cm Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.74 cm Stopper: coral; stained walrus-ivory collar
Condition: Bottle: the mouth is uneven which suggests that it may have been slightly polished. Painting: studio condition. General relative condition: very good.
Illustration: Watercolour by Peter Suart
Provenance: Mr. and Mrs. Peter Bozzo Robert Hall (1986)
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993 British Museum, London, JuneNovember 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997 Christie's, London, 1999
This painting could be by no other hand than Ziyizi's. It is painted in his typical boneless style and is in studio condition, allowing us to appreciate the artist's impressionistic skills in a medium that hardly encourages an impressionistic approach.
The opera illustrated is known under two other titles, Qingdingzhu ('The Lucky Pearl') and Tao yushui ('Demanding the Fishing Tax'). It is about a retired bandit, Xiao En, who lived with his daughter, Xiao Guiying, by fishing. The local bully, Ding, sent his underlings to Xiao En, demanding the payment of a fishing tax. Xiao refused. He was severely punished by the magistrate and ordered to apologize. Xiao was so enraged that he decided to take his daughter with him to see Ding. They pretended to pay up with a prized pearl, which Guiying had received as a betrothal token from her fiancé. After they had gained access to the interior of the Ding residence, they took their revenge by slaughtering the whole Ding family and then fled for their lives. The scene depicted here occurs shows Xiao En giving Ding's henchman a good thrashing.
For another summary of the plot, see Emily Byrne Curtis, 'Unexpected Dividends', JICSBS, Autumn 1986, p. 24, where, on p. 27, is illustrated a photograph of a scene from the opera.