Friday, 21 October 2016

Animal Bone Snuff Bottle

Recently I was window-shopping in Orchard Road, a busy shopping street in Singapore. I saw a couple of snuff bottles on a display tray at the front window of a jewelry shop. There was one made of jadeite that caught my attention ( it has traces of green shades). They are other snuff bottles made of gem materials. There is also one little snuff bottle (top left corner) that looks pretty good with the carving of bird and flowers. I even thought that it was made from ivory (milky color).

Display tray showing some cute snuff bottles
At first, I was not very keen to ask for the price as things on display in a jewelry shop in Orchard Road don't really come cheap. Just imagine the rental these guys pay for a shop in this exclusive area (tourists like to frequent this place).

After making a few rounds in the vicinity, I went back to the shop and decided to try my luck. I went in with a pretext of buying a gift for a friend and there was a tight budget to consider. The shop owner took out the tray from the window display and I had the chance of taking a closer look (even touch) at every item on the tray. The jade bottle was far too expensive, 8000 dollars. The one that looks like glass (bottom 3rd from left) was even more expensive, $13000. The owner told me it was made from green beryl, an expensive gem.

Then when I asked him about the one with bird and flower carving, he told me the price. It was one that I can afford. He then told me that it was not made from ivory but some kind of animal bone. He himself did not know what bone it was. I looked at the carving, it was of good quality. I believed nowadays no one would have the incentive (or talent) to create such a beautiful piece. For the price he quoted me, it was worth it. Snuff bottles were things of the past, this one could have some historical value.

Snuff Bottle with carving
I told him my intention was to buy it for a friend as a birth day gift and I had a certain budget for it. As most of the snuff bottles were very costly, I could only afford this particular one. I did not want to over-stretched myself in buying the gift. I also told him that if the discount was good, I would pay for it in cash (not credit card). After a few rounds of bargaining, I got a discount of 20% for it.

In the business of buying and selling art artifacts, both the buyer and seller must have some story to tell. This will ensure that the deal can go through. At the end of the day, I was happy that I finally got something that I wanted.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Master Ting Er Zong

There were 4 very famous inside painting masters who were active during the late Qing and earlier republic era, from 1900 to 1930. They were Ting Er Zong, Yeh Zong San, Ma Shao Shiuen and Zhou Le Yuan. They all had their own styles and characteristics in their inside paintings. Master Ting was a learned person and his paintings had a scholarly taste and style while Master Yeh was famous in his vivid colours and simplicity. Master Ma was good in portrait painting while Master Zhou was artistic in scenery painting.

Following the advice of his mother, Master Ting left Beijing and moved to the south where he opened a shop dealing in inside painting of snuff bottles. To strife in business, he had to have a variety of stuff in his shops. As a result he undertook to have snuff bottles painted by different masters including himself. As a result one may find a selection of snuff bottles painted by different masters (from the north like Beijing)  all appeared in his shops in the south. This is evident by the fact that he might be faking the masters by using their names, but the paintings were clearly done by him as the style and characteristics were unmistakably his. An expert collector who found out that there was a snuff bottle in his collection where both sides of the bottle bore the names of two Masters, one of himself while the other was Master Yeh's. This proved beyond any doubt that Master Ting was indeed using other people's  names on his own work. Below is a picture to confirm this.

Ting on one side while Yeh on the other
Yeh's style in figure painting

There are many others names such as Master Ma, Master Zhou and Master Pi also appeared on his works. But clearly Master Ting was an excellent painter and his works were very refine and scholarly in style and taste.

Master Yeh's style would be vastly different

Master Ting's landscape paintings

The snuff bottles in my collection, I believe, were done by the same artist, Master Ting. The style and characteristics were so similar to those I have seen in other peoples's collection.

by Master Ting himself

Supposedly by master Yeh
Master Yeh's style in figure painting and his use of colours were clearly different from Master Ting (see picture below). Hence, I believe the snuff bottle above was painted by Master Ting.
Similarly the other snuff bottles supposedly done by Master Zhou and Master Pi share similar style known to be that of Master Ting.
Supposedly by Master Zhou

Supposedly by Master Pi 毕荣九 
Don't you agree, the style of the other 2 snuff bottles look the same. Undoubtedly, Master Ting did use other Masters' names in his works to boost sale of his business in his shops at the south.
Master Yeh's original work

Master Yeh's style of figure painting
Master Ma
Master Ma's portrait painting
Master Zhou's landscape

Master Ting's style in figure painting


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Inside Painting of Queen of England

It made headline news all over the local papers that the Queen of England had received a gift from some inside painting master in the form of a portrait painted on the inside of a snuff bottle for her 80th birthday. The Queen was delighted to have received such a beautiful gift. She marvelled at the skills and expertise of the artist who painted her portrait inside such a small bottle. A letter from Buckingham Palace was sent to the artist in appreciation of his hard work in getting the job done.

The Queen's portrait inside a snuff bottle

Letter from the Palace in appreciation of the gift
Master Zhang at work

Master Zhang is an expert in inside painting, a new art form that create paintings on the inside of snuff bottles. This is a very delicate job as painting something on the inside wall of a bottle is no easy task. There is only a small opening the size of a bean for the artist to maneuver his brush in a reverse type of painting. He has to endure long hours in front of his desk to complete the job. Skills and patient are essential for any one who is interested to learn this art form.

Some of Master Zhang's work

Portrait of the Queen

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Inside painting master

Master Wang Xi San, learnt the art of inside painting at a young age from traditional masters. Because of his hard work and diligence, he mastered the technique of inside painting. He even developed his own style of inside painting and started a school to train those interested in inside painting. He had followers of over forty thousand who practice his style of inside painting.

Inside painting using Chinese medium
While demonstrating this art form to an audience in the US, he was asked to do a portrait of Jesus from a client. When he applied the traditional Chinese ink on the bottle, the result was not good. Then he realized that he could use western medium such as oil to completed the job. He then completed the portrait of Jesus using oil medium. The next day he found that the oil on the bottle would not dry up and the whole thing became very messy. After experimenting with many additives and using tradition rice paper (a medium for Chinese ink painting) to soak up the oil, he was able to apply oil medium in his inside painting and produce excellent results. The client was overwhelmed when he saw the finished work.

Because of this achievement, he was asked to do a portrait for President Reagan when he visited China. He then painted the portrait of the President in a snuff bottle using western oil medium..

President in appreciation of this gift of snuff bottle

Whit this success he began painting the portrait of all the Presidents of the United states of America in snuff bottles.

Once the wife of the ambassador requested to borrow this set of snuff bottles and display them in their house when she and and her husband held a party to entertain guests. Although he does not keep a lot of his work, but he would never sell this set of snuff bottles of the US Presidents. Currently the snuff bottles are on display in his private museum.

Now Master Wang's painted snuff bottles are sought after by collectors all over the world. It would be great if you have a chance to own some of his works.

Art of Internal Painting 内画

Internal painting, or inside painting (内画), is a relatively new art form created in the late 1880s. It is used to decorate snuff bottles by painting on the inside or internal wall of the bottles using specially designed brushes or tools.

How this art form started or come about is really interesting. Snuff bottles were used in early days (early Qing dynasty) to contain powdered tobacco, they were often carried by the Qing Emperors and court officials wherever they went. Occasionally they would dug out some powdered stuff (from a tiny spoon which was part of the stopper) and put it on the palm where they would take a sniff. It is like modern day when one would take out a cigarette from the pack and start puffing with it.

It was told that there was this somebody who had a habit of sniffing from the stuff put in the snuff bottle. One day when he woke up from a sleep, he was terribly in need of a sniff (like drug addicts today) but unfortunately he found that the snuff bottle was empty. Out of desperation, he used a small stick to dig out whatever stuff stuck on the wall of the bottle. In this way he could still satisfy his desire for a sniff at the remnant tobacco powder.

After digging at the wall of the snuff bottle
His action immediately prompted someone nearby with an idea. These bottles could well be painted on the inside wall using some small fine brushes. Snuff bottles were big  business in those days as most affluent people liked to show off their bottles as a sign of wealth and position. Soon, many artists began decorating the inside wall of the snuff bottles with beautiful art paintings. This was the humble beginning of the new art form called internal painting or inside painting (内画). It is still carried out today by many artists who specialize in this art form and created many paintings inside the snuff bottles. Of course, today nobody is indulged in the sniffing of stuff form such bottles. They are solely meant for art appreciation and as souvenirs when one travels to China.

Snuff bottles can be made from many different materials, from porcelain, glass to quartz crystals. Obviously the value of these bottles depend on the fame and recognition of the artists who painted on them. Some masters' works can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Recently, antique snuff bottles had been auctioned for millions of dollars.

Below are some of my collection of snuff bottles from the early 1900s.

丁二仲 1920



叶仲三 (1875 - 1945)

Painted in 1908

周乐元 1901