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Modern Art of Snuff Bottle

Wang Xisan: the greatest master in modern snuff bottle

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

Wang Xisan, master of snuff bottle
The founder of Ji School: Wang Xisan

Wang Xisan was born in Beijing in 1938. He is the founder of Ji school in Inside painting. Here are the introduction of four major inside painting schools. He is also the contemporary Gu Yuexuan (Enameled Glass) artist and the first Master of Chinese arts and crafts, the highest reward for an snuff bottle artist. His studio has successively used the names of "Taipingzhuang," "Bannongzhai," "Yihuzhai," and "Yihu Badezhai."

When he was young, Wang Xisan was enrolled at the Beijing Institute of Arts and Crafts in 1957. He was taught by the son of Ye Zhongsan, Ye Shaofeng, and Ye Bengqi. Ye Zhongsan is one of the four masters of inside painting in the late Qing Dynasty. For more details about the Ye family, click here. With different family names, Wang Xisan was the first disciple in the "Ye School" to learn inside painting and Gu Yuexuan art.

Based on the traditional inheritance, he absorbs the strengths of various inside paintings. He bravely explores and seeks new ideas in the skills of inside painting. After years of practice, he invented a new painting tool, the “flexible metal shaft brushes,” which is later widely used in inside painting. Throughout the integration of Chinese and Western cultures in practice, he had pushed the inside painted portrait art to an unprecedented height. For example, he was also the first person to pioneer the “oil paint inside painting technique.” Moreover, he tried to draw an entire set of snuff bottles in roughly 19. This had fundamentally expanded the subjects of inside painting, making the diversification of subject matter one of the characteristics of the Ji School. In 1968, he changed the name of his studio to “Yi Huzhai “ ( One Bottle Studio).

Yihu Badezhai, Wang Xisan, snuff bottle shop
Yihu Badezhai, a snuff bottle studio

The features of Wang Xisan's work

Wang Xisan's works have known for a wide range of themes, elegant conception on layout, brilliant form, and spirit. His excellent skills in calligraphy and painting are exceptional as well. These have formed the characteristics of Wang Xisan. Representative works include the series of "Emperors and Empresses in Qing Dynasty" and "The Picture of Famous Monarchs and National Treasures of China's Twelve Dynasties" Series, "Portrait of American Presidents" series of snuff bottles.

Initially, Wang Xisan's work was signed with his real name, Wang Ruicheng. Due to the very short time to sign the works of his real name, the works handed down are very rare. The works we generally see today are mostly Wang Xisan's signatures that have been used in different versions since 1959. There is a story about why Wang Xisan changed his name from Ruicheng to Xisan. Wang Xisan's teacher, Ye Bengqi's pen name, is Xiao "San" (小三). And for Bengqi's father is Ye Zhong "San." They both have the name "San" (三). Accordingly, Wang Xisan learned from the Ye family, and in Chinese, the character for learning is "習, "which is pronounced as "Xi." Therefore, Xi+San (習三) means learning from the Ye family. It is to the memory of the Ye family's selfless inheritance.

Gu Yuexuan's Skill

In terms of Gu Yuexuan's skills, Wang Xisan was also the first person to restore the making of Gu Yuexuan and taught his apprenticeship. To put Gu Yuexuan in a simple word, it's "Enameled Glass." Here are the details and history about enameled glass. After experiencing the cultural revolution that wiped out most of the cultural art during the 1970s, Wang Xisan resumed the firing of enameled glass and invented the use of electric furnace firing techniques to produce enameled glass snuff bottles. Since then, the difficulty of making this art form has been greatly reduced. His masterpieces include "Flowers of the Four Seasons," open-mouthed bottle, and "Anju Tu."

Wang XiSan and one of his best artwork. D.D Art
Wang Xisan and one of his best artwork.

Historical records

In June 1966, Wang Xisan was repatriated to his place of origin, started painting as a part-time job, and meanwhile developed the "Hebei school inside painting".

In 1979, Awarded the honorary title of “ Chinese Arts & Crafts Artist”, equivalent to “ National Master Artist “

In 1983, Attended the 15th ICSBS Convention in Canada, and was awarded “ Honorary Member” of the society

In 1985, the "Portrait of American Presidents" series of snuff bottles won the China Arts and Crafts Hundred Flowers Award "Golden Cup Treasure Award".

In 1986, he was invited to act in the film, “Baqi Zidi”, as one of the main roles directed by the famous film director Li Han-Hsiang.

In 2002, he held a lecture named “Snuff Bottle” at Hong Kong Chinese University.

In October 2005, Wang edited and published the book” the Chinese Inside Painting of the Modern Age”

In June 2006, Hengshui inside painted snuff bottle Art form was listed as National Cultural Heritages.

In 2008, he was selected as one of the torchbearers in the 29th Olympic Games.

In April 2008, he was conferred the title of Crafts Master of Asia-Pacific Region by the World Crafts Council.

Wang XiSan: he is painting the snuff bottle and the human figure seems to be a China emperor. D.D Art
Wang XiSan: he is painting the snuff bottle and the human figure seems to be a China emperor

In conclusion

Today, Wang Xisan has retired and no longer paints. However, his importance on the snuff bottle art history is like an Olympic torch that is holding in his hand. Great and respected! Many of his students have become leaders in the field of inside painting. They have begun to engage in education and inheritance related to snuff bottles. By contrast, Wang Xisan himself began to turn his energies to the management of the snuff bottle museum and continued to do his utmost to promote the snuff bottles.

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George Ingraham
George Ingraham

There is a real nice book by Wang Xisan titled, "Chinese Inside Painting of the Modern Age"(CIPMA)


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