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Modern Art of Snuff Bottle

Introduction: Schools of Inside Painted Snuff Bottle

Updated: Aug 17, 2021


The scale of Chinese contemporary inside painted snuff bottles starts from the beginning of the Republic of China to the present day. From the painting styles, it can be divided into four major schools: 1. “Beijing” School ( Jing ) . It is represented by Liu Shouben; 2. "Shandong” School ( Lu ) Inside Painting"represented by Li Kechang and Zhang Guangqing. 3. "Guangdong School ( Yue )" inside painting represented by Lai Yining and Wu Songling. 4. Finally, the "Hebei" ( Ji ) school inside painting, which is represented by Wang Xisan. In D.D Art, we prefer to use the location of the schools to name the inside painting schools. We think it will be better for English native to comprehend and recall the schools's name.


Among the four mainstream schools, the most influential one is the "Ji school" which is led by the master of the first craft Wang Xisan. According to official data, this school has the largest number of practitioners, with about 30,000 to 80,000 people. By contrast, painters from other schools have less than 20-30 people in local private galleries.


Wang Xisan : Inside painted Snuff bottle
Hebei School : the master of snuff bottle, Wang Xisan (1948 - present)

Similarities and differences among the schools


All the inside painted snuff bottles used the bamboo pen as the painting tool before 1967. However, the founder of Ji school, Wang Xisan, developed a "Flexible metal shaft brushes" based on the western brush and the hooked bamboo pens of the Shandong school. This has solved the disadvantage of the traditional bamboo pen to a great extent. This new tool is easier to replace, more durable, and is more bendable. In art history, the inside painted snuff bottles have been extended to a whole new stage.


Zhang Rucai: Inside painted snuff bottle
Hebei School: Zhang Rucai ( 1952~present )

Moreover, the paintings in Ji school are known for their wide range of innovative themes of painting such as flower and bird drawings, personal portraits, human figures, landscapes, animals, amongst other things. These themes are rarely created by other schools which are having deep study with the specific theme. By contrast, Ji school has a way of free expression, and the schools of thoughts contend without restriction. As a result, these make the Hebei school occupy an extremely important position in contemporary inside painted snuff bottles. The famous painters in the Hebei school include Wang Xisan, Fu Guoshun, Li Yingtao, Zhang Zenglou, Huang San, Zhang Rucai and so on. Their works are highly praised on the international art market. Many of them are even awarded the title of China's arts and crafts masters by the Chinese official government.


However, the snuff bottle carrying Chinese culture and artistic value had once withered because of China's 10-years Cultural Revolution. Until the end of the 20th century when China opened up to the world market, Xisan Wang and his pupils worked hard to revive this artwork and finally brought the snuff bottle back to people’s eyes. See here for more details about history. This art form was recognized by the Ministry of Culture of the Chinese authorities and vigorously promoted the revival of snuff bottles. Currently, snuff bottles have been included in the list of world cultural heritage objects and craftsmanship.


The increasing value on inside painted snuff bottles


In the modern day, contemporary inside painting works of art have taken a place among international collectors. For example, In May 1994, at the Hong Kong Sotheby’s auction, Wang Xisan inside painted snuff bottle "Farewell My Concubine" was sold for HK$241,500, setting a record for an auction of contemporary master inside painted snuff bottles. In December 2010, at the Hanhai auction, Xisan Wang’s crystal work "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove" was sold for RMB 1,230,000, setting a milestone for contemporary inside painted art. In just a few years, inside painted snuff bottles have become the value carrier of material wealth, and their value has not been neglected in global auctions. However, for some overseas collectors, the knowledge of snuff bottles is still scarce. Due to language barriers, the snuff bottles are mainly promoted in the narrow sphere within mainland China’s market, which has hindered the Western collectors from getting insight.


Xu Liwei and the mayor of Tainan City.
Founder of D.D Art, Xu Liwei was visited by the mayor of Tainan City (2010)


Mission to D.D Art on promoting the snuff bottles


In 2021, Liwei Xu, an outstanding artist among the 52 official disciples of the Xisan Wang in Hebei School, is also the only disciple in Taiwan. Liwei Xu officially founded D.D Art, the international snuff bottle site. By sharing educational snuff bottle knowledge and cooperating with art galleries in many countries, we are going to promote snuff bottle art internationally, which will allow the world to appreciate this art form’s history and culture, as well as its former glory in Chinese culture.

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