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Modern Art of Snuff Bottle

An Inside Painted Snuff Bottle, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Glass by Huang San in 1994


Snuff Bottle, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, 1995 by Huang San
Prince Charles and Princess Diana, 1995 by Huang San


One month ago, Queen Elizabeth II passed away on September 8. As the rightful heir to the royal family, Charles III succeeded as the new British monarch. Behind the transition, there was a relationship scandal about King Charles, which prevented the British people from letting go.


This inside-painted snuff bottle was painted in the winter of 1994 by Haung San, a newly elected master of Chinese arts and crafts, in 2022. According to a previous collector's diction, this piece was intended to present the UK diplomat a national present during their visit to Beijing.



Prince Charles and Princess Diana,  resource from Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images
The couple, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, resource from Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

In November 1995, it's unfortunately that Princess Diana revealed in an exclusive interview with the BBC that Charles was having an affair. The news shocking the world broke out. Therefore, the China authorities considered the inappropriateness of a gift, and later this piece of work was released to the public, flowing into the Folk collection. On August 28, 1996, Prince Charles and his first wife, Princess Diana, officially divorced at the direct order from Queen Elizabeth II, ending their fifteen-year relationship. In fact, the outside world has always speculated about the relationship between the spouse. Was Princess Diana really loved? Prince Charles once said that Princess Diana was an ideal fit to be a princess but didn't say much. Perhaps, Princess Diana had always belonged to a third party? All of this leaves much to the public's imagination. In 1997, Princess Diana tragically died in a car accident in Paris, France. After that, the authenticity of these rumors was untraceable.


Mr. Huang San has a very high talent for human portraits. In this work, he uses the explicitly drawing technique to depict the love between Prince Charles and Princess Diana as they transcend the shackles of time and freeze that moment in the snuff bottle forever.


In the past, Huang San engaged in traditional Chinese painting, which made his inside painting skill not refined to only traditional methods but incorporated more elements of contemporary painting. In addition to attaching importance to conventional painting techniques, he paid more attention to the artistry of the images.


This work has a simple composition, but the devil is in the details. This painting was expressed in darker tones, with more information about eyes and wrinkles, dressed in green, depicting the maturity and kindness of Charles, a pair of piercing eyes. The white clothes and rosy cheeks show the youthful vitality of Princess Diana, a pure angel. Also, from the details of the hand on Prince Charles' shoulder, you can feel Princess Diana's intense love. Prince Charles was 33 when he married in 1981, while Princess Diana was just under 20.


Reverse side of the snuff bottle: The plum and Bamboo
Reverse side of the snuff bottle: The plum and Bamboo


On the reverse side of this inside painting work, the theme is "Plum and Bamboo", two of the Three Friends of "Cold Winter (歲寒)." The "plum flower" symbolizes a noble and strong character in China. In the severe winter, plum blossoms before a hundred flowers, and spring is the only one blossoming. Therefore, the plum in chinese culture is often used as an auspicious symbol to announce the good news of spring. And "bamboo" symbolizes modesty and noble spiritual quality. The two are interlaced, with thick ink and elegant and meticulous brushwork describing a plum blossom and a clump of green bamboo. The picture is unified but not messy. This work is to bless the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's marriage, have noble morals, and stand upright even on tough days.


From today's point of view, though the realities are not so beautiful, if we only focus on one point, line, or plane, perhaps the original beauty has always been there and never left our eyes.


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