An inside-painted crystal 'landscape' snuff bottle
Zhou Leyuan, The Studio of Lotus-root Fragrance, Xuannan, Beijing, dated 1885 (the bottle: 17801870) Sold with accompanying watercolour by Peter Suart 5.9cm high.
Treasury 4, no. 471
雙連水晶內畫山水鼻煙壺 壺﹕1780～1870 內畫﹕周樂元，藕香書軒，宣南房舍，北京，1885年
An inside-painted 'children gone wild' snuff bottle
Crystal, ink, and watercolours; a double bottle with flat double lip, each separate segment with a flat, truncated foot; painted on one outer main side with a group of five children in a classroom playing as their teacher comes into view through the window, two playing blindman's buff, and three acting out a scene of bringing a lawsuit to judgment, with the miscreant kneeling in front of the 'magistrate' in his mandarin's hat (and pretending to smoke a pipe), the desk around which they play set with a brush pot with brushes, an inkstone and a set of books, the other outer main side with a river landscape in which a scholar sits reading at the window of a country retreat while two others wait on the path below for a ferryman who is punting his boat near to them, inscribed in draft script '[Executed] in a winter month in the year yiyou by Zhou Leyuan', followed by one illegible seal of the artist Bottle: 17801870 Painting: Zhou Leyuan, The Studio of Lotus-root Fragrance, Xuannan, Beijing, winter, 1885 Height: 5.9 cm Mouths/lips: 0.58/2.20 and 3.80 cm (overall width of double lip) Stoppers: carnelian; vinyl collars
Condition: Bottle: outer lips possibly slightly reduced to remove chips, but if so, evenly done. Painting: studio condition
Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart
Provenance: Sotheby's, New York, 1 July 1985, lot 259 (second item in lot)
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994February 1995 Christie's, London, 1999
This is the only recorded double bottle by Zhou Leyuan, and it was probably an existing, older bottle that he acquired for painting, possibly via a patron. With a double bottle of this kind, where two main faces offer no practical surface for inside painting, there is no point in ordering it specially. The artist can still only get pictures on two main sides, so why go to all the trouble of having the more expensive double bottle made? The only other possibility is a patron who particularly wanted to combine a double bottle of this sort with paintings by Zhou Leyuan, but if that were the case, he would have been better to put his two containers side-by-side, offering four main surfaces, as Ma Shaoxuan and other Zhou Leyuan School artists did from time to time. The surface of the crystal is also covered with tiny, natural scratches acquired through use, which would have been unlikely to accrue in the shorter time since 1885, especially in a bottle that is in such remarkable condition and seems never to have been used or even filled with snuff.