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



Thursday, 18 August 2016

Fu Baoshi

It was reported in the press (June 2016) that a painting of Fu Baoshi (傅抱石) was auctioned recently in Beijing for a record S$47m - thie highest price paid in the sale. The 1954 work, The God of Cloud and Great Lord, has been kept in Singapore by various collectors since the early 1960s.

Fu Boashi's painting done in 1954
The painting of two fairy gods was inspired by a poem by Warring states poet Qu Yuan more than 2000 years ago. Measuring 114 cm by 315 cm, it is the largest painting of human figures by the late artist available in the market. His other similar size-size work are kept in museums in China.

Art collectors here indicated that the painting was sold by Fu's family to a Singapore collector after his death in 1965, and it remained in Singapore since. They added that the sale of the painting was a great loss to Singapore art.

One retired Chinese art writer commented: "As with many other other Chinese masterpieces owned by the older generation of Singapore collectors, we are losing them probably because present collectors and the museum authorities here do not see their values."

Fu Baoshi
Fu Baoshi had great talents in Chinese painting. After the independence in 1959, he and another artist (Guan Sanyue) were commissioned by Mao Zedong of the Communist government to paint a huge painting for display in the Great Hall of China. The painting depicts sun rise on mountains with clouds and pine trees. This painting entitled "Jiang San Ru Chi Doa Jiao" 江山如此娇。The six Chinese characters were written by Chairman Mao himself after its completion.

It was a great investment by the Singapore collector. In his old age, he is able to reap a fortune for investing in famous artists' works. However, it is a pity that time is against him to dispose of such wealth during his old age.

Write-up of this painting in Mandarin (Source;




Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Another teapot story

Yet another record price for teapot legend Gu Zingzhou's work.

This set of ten-piece Yixing ware fetched a record price of 89.60 millions RMB in an auction in Beijing in November 2015. The set consists of a squirrel/grapes decorated teapot, a tea leaves container and 4 cups with plates.

Gu Zingzhou evaluating a teapot

Gu was famous in producing excellent teapots. He would break any teapot that was not made up to his satisfaction. Hence, his works are really perfect master pieces.

In the 1980s, there was a teapot exhibition in Singapore organised by Jingfong (a renown company from Hong Kong). There was a teapot made by Gu and the asking price was $20k. Back then in the 1980s, $20k was a lot of money. All those present in the exhibition shook their heads with disbelief, how on earth could a teapot be so expensive! Even if the teapot was made entirely from gold, it would even be cheaper. I did not know if any one bought the teapot during the exhibition. If indeed that teapot was sold, the owner of that pot today could well be feeling how fortunate he was. He acquired a teapot made by Gu for only $20k while others are paying tens of millions for it.

The morale of the story is: You don't need to invest in properties for a good return for your investment, art works are obvious choice of investment. In an affluent society where cash is not a problem, people would thrown in tons of money to acquire any art pieces that are valuable.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Teapot Story

This teapot by Gu Zingzhou was auction for a hefty 14.95 million RMB in 2013.

An article about this teapot appeared in the Chinese paper in 1987 in which a journalist reported that this teapot could fetch tens of thousands of RMB in auction. Well, why is this teapot so unique that collectors are willing to part company with such a large sum of money for a used old teapot. In fact there are five such teapots made by the legendary Gu Zing Zhou who then gave them to four famous artists of that time and he himself kept one. The paintings on the pots were done by the artists and Gu did the engravings.

It all began in the 1940s where Gu was introduced to the famous artists of the time, Wu Hufan, Jiang Hantin and Tang Yun (江寒汀唐云吴湖帆during a cultural exchange. They all admired each other's professions and shared their many experiences in areas of artistic innovations and creations. Then Gu suggested that he would made some teapots and the artists would paint on them to commemorate this cultural exchange. In 1948, Gu made 5 identical teapots and had them sent to the artist Tang Yun and Wu Hufan for art work to be painted on the pots. The pots were then returned to Gu for engraving to be carried out before the pots were fired in the kiln. The teapots were then given to the artists and Gu himself kept one.

One of the artists, Jiang Hantin (江寒汀) , related this story in the 80s when he had a teapot sharing session with collectors. He showed to the audience the teapot he had kept with him all this while. He mentioned that these teapots were very special and they represented some of the finest works of Go Zingzhou. If the teapots were put in auction they could easily fetch tens of thousands of RMB. Well, that was in 1987. Today Gu's teapots can easily fetch tens of millions of RMB in auction. One can see how much collectors are willing to pay for teapots made by Gu Zingzhou.

This one was sold for 12.23 millions in 2010.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Yixing Factory teapots

Teapots made in the old days, especially those from the Yixing first factory, are collectors item. These teapots were made from old Yixing clay with a diversity in colour, size and design. It is impossible to collect them all but luckily there are references as to the name and type of teapots made during that era. These teapots are shown below . If you do have any of them, keep them well for it is impossible to reproduce such teapots anymore.