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Modern Art of Snuff Bottle

The beauty of Inside Painted Snuff Bottle: Two exquisites Splashed ink works by Li YingTao

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Reminisced the past few years ago, I studied at the China University of Political Science and Law. I went to Nanluoguxiang in Beijing, which was the first time I came into contact with such exquisite works of inside painted snuff bottles on the street. However, it was not until two years ago that I inherited part of the antique snuff bottle collection from the family, I officially started to enter the field of inside painting snuff bottles. "The fascinating thing about the inside-painted snuff bottle is that it carries all kinds of possibilities in the miniature bottle; owning a bottle in handy as if you were to have the whole world." My Grandfather said. This sentence still echoes in my brain.

The Nanluoguxiang street, picture was taken while studying in Beijing 2018
The Nanluoguxiang street, picture was taken while studying in Beijing 2018

In 2020, at a meeting of fate, I met Mr. Xu Liwei, a Taiwanese inside painting artist who is also a Taiwanese snuff bottle collector. I had consulted him many times about the antique and modern snuff bottles. His genuine suggestion was constructive, and he was also kind to share his collections attained ten years ago from his senior pupils with me. After serious studying, I was amazed by their many years of dedicated antique snuff bottles and contemporary masterpieces. The contemporary inside-painted snuff bottles are an ever-improving handicraft. Of most artists who painted snuff bottles inside, I was particularly impressed by Mr. Li Yingtao's two splash-ink paintings, namely "Birds and bloomed lotus pond in autumn" and "Early Snow." This turned my previous impression of the copying style of antique interior paintings by Ye Zhongsan, Ding Erzhong, and others, and also flipped my understanding of inside painting snuff bottles. "Wow, inside painting, snuff bottles can be different!" I think in my mind.

The contemporary inside painted snuff bottle is an art form that continues to innovate and create. Taking the ancient as a mirror, inside painting has developed a different state of sense. In the torrent of contemporary internal painting snuff bottles, Mr. Li Yingtao is one of the best, at least from my personal perspective. His unique ink-splashing technique makes it difficult to find a second person in the inside painting world ( Who is Li Yingtao? ). However, in fact, his early work did not look like splashed ink and color at all. Until he saw the splashed ink and color of the master of Chinese painting Zhang Daqian at an exhibition in Beijing, the Zhang Daqian works with the style of Western abstract painting made him start to contemplate in his artist's mind and think about the meaning of painting and his own painting language. Mr. Zhang Daqian can be said to be Mr. Li Yingtao's enlightenment teacher despite the fact they had never met before. I acquired this information from the artist's oral record.

This "Autumn in the Lotus Pond" is Mr. Li Yingtao's splash-ink and colorful fine works. With freehand and lifelike brushstrokes, it depicts the scene of Chinese kingfishers playing in the lotus pond in the autumn. Kingfisher is commonly seen in traditional Chinese paintings. This mascot is affectionate by ancient Chinese literati and scholars due to its bright feathers and quick motion. In addition, Kingfisher represents peace and prosperity, a symbol of fertile harvest and good luck, and its gorgeous feathers symbolize happiness. In ancient times, the lotus was used as a metaphor for the beauty of women.

Nevertheless, the Kingfisher means "the bluebird of happiness," representing loyalty. The combination of lotus and Kingfisher shows a sense of elegance and ease of literati. For example, in the painting of lotus and Kingfisher by Zhu Da in the Qing Dynasty, Zhu Da, the "Eight Immortals," expresses freehand feeling and fun with lotus and Kingfisher

With the unique technique of splashing ink, Mr. Li Yingtao uses deep, light, thick, and light colors, harmonious color, full composition, one heavy and one light, decorated with two kingfishers of different colors jumping up and down. It perfectly expresses the dynamic sense of the scene. In addition, the lotus flowers outlined by the artist are relatively vivid. Some are in buds, and some are blooming, red and white. The elegant colors balance the splendor of splashing ink. On a leisurely autumn day, the green leaves hidden under is a pond of the quiet lotus pond. In the afternoon, it radiates the joy of comfort.

It is worth noting that the carrier of this snuff bottle is cylinder-shaped, from left to right and from right to left. It looks like a Chinese scroll painting with a unique moving visual point of view. The aqua-blue lid on the bottle matches the theme of the work, the lotus pond, and autumn, giving this snuff bottle the finishing touch. This work is indeed one of the masterpieces of Mr. Li Yingtao.

The work "Early Snow" is another masterpiece of Mr. Li Yingtao. It is different from the first splash-ink and abstract painting style. This work is more realistic and depicts the scenery of a kingfisher in a lotus pond during the early snow season. Although this work does not use the technique of splashing ink, it is worth noting that the combination of pink Rocky crystal leaves, the carrier of the natural agate of this snuff bottle, is the same as the ink splashed technique used in "Lotus Pond Autumn." The artist cleverly matched the carrier of the snuff bottle to present the style of abstract splashing ink, but the picture still shows realistically, as in the late Tang poet Li Shangyin's poem "Remnant Lotus,"

"The bleak autumn breeze and a hundred flowers die, the dead branches and leaves the swing with sad waves". However, the artist does not regard winter as the destination of life. Instead, the artist uses the precise color method to showcase the scene of standing unshakable in the winter. It releases the whispering message that "after the chilly winter is gone, we will again embrace spring when everything will take on a new look." The spring is coming.

These two masterpieces are the masterpieces of Mr. Li Yingtao. If Zhang Daqian's works are magnificent and attractive, then Mr. Li Yingtao's works are delicate and elegant, with extraordinary charm in the miniature carrier. The development of Mr. Li Yingtao's ink-splashing skills can be said to have a status in art history that cannot be ignored in the historical process. He is one of my favorite artist.

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