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Modern Art of Snuff Bottle

The development of Chinese Painting inside the snuff bottle: Works of the leading Asian artists


Foreword:


This article is the second part of Peter published essay. It has thoroughly illustrated the development of Chinese inside Painting. The Chinese inside Painting is an evolving art form. Peter compares the works from the last century painters, Zhou Leyuan, Ding Erzhong, Wang Xisan, and Liu Shouben to the vert-modern artists such as Fu guoshun, Liu Ziyi, to demonstrate how do they evolve over time. As known to collectors, the painting skills required for inside Painting are much more challenging than traditional Chinese Painting. Of all themes, cat painting is considered to be relatively difficult. Wang Xisan, as the founder of Ji school, develop a new way to paint Cat, which looks more vivid than any artists prior to his generation. However, did it stop moving forward? Clearly not according to this study.

Inside Painting is an emerging art form with more young artists joining into this field. Ji school is the largest and outnumbers than the other school's pupils combined. Therefore, Peter cites Ji school to explain the development. From the year 1970 to 2010, each decade has appeared different look at the Cat depicting. Every year, the artists are improving their skills in such as capturing the vivid look of Cat and being involved in their artist's feelings. It is an incredible art industry in terms of Chinese painting art. Later stage, the artists also jump out of the box to paint the landscape with a different approach, such as Li Yingtao's splash colour. In the past, people said the inside painting is merely a work of crafts. When you finish the reading, I promise, you will have different thought on this beautiful miniature painting inside the bottle.


I spent nearly three hours transcript this article. We expect the snuff bottle publications could be put in the digital world instead of simply journals confined to only a small group of people. It is a pity. After 2020, the online art market and appreciation have grown and earned more exposure than offline due to the COVID- 19. The shifting of people’s habits online has been prevailing. Let the article be searched on Google! It will invite more collectors to join this community. Suppose you’re interested in publishing your hard copy publication on D.D Art. Please email us at ddartwork@outlook.com. We’re happy to help at no charge.


Introduction:


In this two-part article, I have addressed four points:


  1. The history and genealogy of the Five Schools of Modern Inside Painting.

  2. The main characteristics of the Five Schools

  3. Quantum leaps in painting skill over the past fifty years

  4. Quantum leaps in painting creativity over the past twenty years


The first two points were covered in Part I of this article, which appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of the Journal. In Part II of this article, I now come to the last two points, which in my opinion, will particularly appeal to those collectors who regard inside painting as a real form of art rather than just a craft. In Part I of this article, I showed the main characteristics of all the Modern Schools with the exception of the Ji School. I could not realistically go into any depth to illustrate the Ji School because of the very large number of famous Ji School artists, many of whom have their own individual and often very original styles.


Therefore, the best I can do to illustrate the richness and depth of the Ji School is to use examples from some leading Ji School artists to demonstrate my last two points: the quantum leaps in painting skill and creativity in the past decades within the Schools of Modern Inside Painting. In order to show the quantum leaps in painting skill over the past fifty years, I have used paintings of cats for the following reasons:


  1. Cats are technically very difficult to paint because of their individual faces and fine fur, especially Persian cats.

  2. We are familiar with cats. Everyone knows what a cat should look like.

  3. At one time, I had several Persian cat pets, so I know better than many people


how the faces of these cats differ from the caricatured-almost cartoon-like way they are often painted. I also used cats because Master Wang Xisan himself used a cat as an example to explain how a bottle is painted in one of his most recent books, Masters of Chinese Arts and Crafts: Wang Xisan ( 中國工藝美術大師 ) : 王習三(2014). The example in figure 1 was painted in 2006 by Master Lu Jianguang 盧建廣, who was a pupil of Wang Xisan from 1980. I start from the first decade of Early Modern inside painting, 1960-1970 (fig. 2), showing two early works by Wang Xisan when he was still a member of the Jing School. (The two early Jing School bottles in figure 2 are also usually attributed to Wang Xisan.) Going on from there, it is easy to see the growth of painting skills as we move through the following two decades, 1970-1980 (figs. 3 and 4) and then 1980-1990 ( figs. 5 through 8 ). Regarding the direct pupils of Wang Xisan can refer tho this directory.



How to paint a cat inside a bottle, Lu Jianguang ( 2006 ). D.D Art
How to paint a cat inside a bottle, Lu Jianguang ( 2006 ). Fig 1


Cats through the decades: 1960 to 1970. D.D Art Snuff Bottle
Cats through the decades: 1960 to 1970. Fig 2


Cats through the decades: 1970 to 1980. D.D Art Snuff Bottle
Cats through the decades: 1970 to 1980. Fig 3


Cats through the decades: 1970 to 1980. Fig 4
Cats through the decades: 1970 to 1980. Fig 4


Cats through the decades: 1980 to 1990. D.D Art snuff bottle
Cats through the decades: 1980 to 1990. Fig 5


Cats through the decades: 1980 to 1990. D.D Art Snuff Bottle
Cats through the decades: 1980 to 1990. Fig 6


Of particular interest is figure 7, in which it is obvious that master artists Ai Qi 艾琦and Wang Qian 王千 have both copied from the same original Western oil painting. Also of interest is figure 8, in which the rapid improvement in skill over just three years between 1986 and 1989 can be seen in the work of Cao Huimin 曹慧敏, the first Ji School woman artist.



Cats through the decades: 1980 to 1990.
Cats through the decades: 1980 to 1990. Fig 7.

Cats through the decades: 1980 to 1990. Fig 8
Cats through the decades: 1980 to 1990. Fig 8


Note that up to 1990, I have selected only bottles painted by master artists. Therefore these really were the best paintings of cats in the first three decades since the start of the whole Modern period per se. All the artists whose works are shown going forward from figure 4 are from the Ji School, and one can clearly see huge improvements in painting skills from decade to decade. Strangely, I could not find any paintings of cats by well-known artists from 1990 to 2000. This may be because bottles of cats painted during this period were not particularly outstanding and so were not included in publications of collections. However, a more likely explanation is that master artists were turning to more creative themes by the end of the twentieth century, as I will explain later.



Cats through the decades: 2000 to 2010. Fig 9
Cats through the decades: 2000 to 2010. Fig 9

Cats through the decades: 2000 to 2010. Fig 10
Cats through the decades: 2000 to 2010. Fig 10


Cats through the decades: 2000 to 2010. Fig 11
Cats through the decades: 2000 to 2010. Fig 11

The first decade of the twenty-first century evinces another quantum leap in painting skills. (figs. 9 through 11). Compare Master Ai Qi's work in 1986 with his later works in 2004 and 2005 (figs. 6 and 9). The other examples of cat paintings that I have shown in figures 9 through 11 are by younger Ji School artists. Liu Bingshan 劉丙山 (fig. 10) does specialize in painting cats with his unique grey-tone style, while Zhang Keqin 張克芹 ( fig.11 ) paints animals in general. However, Shi Xingzhou 史星洲 (fig.9) is much better known for his Chinese landscape paintings, while Nie Lei 聶磊, also known as Yi Ding -T (fig. 11) is one of the most famous micro-calligrapher painters of the Very Modern period. Wang Shijia 王思佳 (fig.11) at the time he painted this Persian cat, which I personally commissioned from a photograph of one of my pets, was just a senior student of Li Shouxun 李守訓 in Hengshui. Nonetheless, there is no comparison between his student painting skills in 2009 and the skills of the masters from half a century before.



Cats through the decades: 2010 to today: Zhang Keqin. D.D Art snuff bottle
Cats through the decades: 2010 to today: Zhang Keqin. Fig 12

Cats through the decades: 1970 to today. Fig 13
Cats through the decades: 1970 to today. Fig 13

The most beautiful painting of a cat I have ever seen was by Zhang Keqin 張克芹 in 2012 (fig.12). I bought the bottle on the spot even though the back face of the bottle was only half-finished because I knew I would only want to display the magnificent front face, which Ms. Zhang told me she painted from an image in her mind and not as a copy from a photograph or any other picture. I, therefore, hope that readers can see the quantum leaps in painting skills over the past fifty years based on these examples by both earlier senior and more recent younger Ji School artists (fig. 13).


Finally, I come to my last of my four points, and the one that is closest to my heart and guides my bottle collection: quantum leaps in painting creativity over the past twenty years.

This is where craft really does become art! To illustrate this point I have used

paintings of Chinese landscapes as examples. My reasons are as follows:


  1. Chinese landscapes allow great freedom for creativity and new styles of painting.

  2. Every collector of Chinese snuff bottles is familiar with Chinese landscapes.

  3. I personally love Chinese landscape paintings. The great majority of my collection of over 300 Very Modern period inside-painted bottles are Chinese landscapes.


Note that in the case of paintings of cats, it was hard to find examples by senior artists. However, there are so many good examples of Chinese landscape paintings by talented artists that I found it hard to choose the best ones to present.



Chinese classic-style landscape bottles by four masters. D.D Art snuff bottle
Chinese classic-style landscape bottles by four masters. Fig 14


I start with some examples of classic-style Chinese landscape inside-painted bottles from the past century by four great masters, Zhou Leyuan, Ding Erzhong, Wang Xisan, and Liu Shouben (fig. 14), to lay the basis for what I will go on to say about Very Modern period landscapes. If we jump ahead to the mid-2000s, we find that Very Modern period artists still often paint Chinese landscapes in this classic style (fig. 15). However, as one would expect from the big improvements in painting skills over the past century, the level of detail is significantly higher.



Very Modern Chinese classic-style landscape bottles: Song Yiming. D.D Art snuff bottle
Very Modern Chinese classic-style landscape bottles: Song Yiming. Fig 15


The three bottles in figure 15 are all in my collection and were painted by Song Yiming 宋義明 . The first two bottles shown in figure 15 were, in fact, among the first real inside-painted bottles I bought, and I still consider them some of the best examples I have seen of classic-style Chinese landscape inside-painted bottles from the Very Modern period.


Commissioned copies of Modern Chinese landscape paintings. D.D Art
Commissioned copies of Modern Chinese landscape paintings. Fig 16

One way to paint Chinese landscapes in modern style is to commission copies of the works of modern watercolor- or oil-paint artists. In figure 16 I show two superlative examples of this kind of work that I commissioned from well-known Ji School artist Master Li Shouxun 李守訓. This is part of a series of bottles copied from the watercolor paintings of semi-abstract Chinese landscape artist Zhang Yumao 張玉茂. Consider that the original paintings are nearly five feet tall and that the bottles were copied from a huge coffee-table-size art book. Condensing the image into a three-inch-tall bottle at a level of detail that requires a strong magnifying glass to resolve is truly high craftsmanship. But though the bottles are amazingly beautiful, I would argue that they are not true creative art.



In fact, until about 2000, the great majority of Modern period bottles were copies: whether of a Western canvas painting, a Chinese scroll painting, a photograph, a print, or whatever. In J.H. Leung's landmark book titled A New Look of Chinese Inside Painted Snuff Bottles (Chinese version: 1988; English version: 1990), you can see that most of his collection, probably over 90 percent, were copy-painted, as shown in figures 17 through 19. (Suo Zhenhai 索振海, who seems to have created his wonderful paintings from within his own mind, is a notable exception to this general statement.)



Creative versus copy painting. D.D Art snuff bottle
Creative versus copy painting. Fig 17

Copy painting: Wang Guanyu (1985 to 1986). D.D Art snuff bottle
Copy painting: Wang Guanyu (1985 to 1986). Fig 18

Copy painting: Fu Guoshun (~1986). D.D Art snuff bottle
Copy painting: Fu Guoshun (~1986). Fig 19

However, in fairness to the artists who painted prior to about 1990, it must be remembered that the major collectors at that time, such as J.H. Leung himself, often specifically requested inside-painted bottles that were copies of original paintings or photographs supplied as commissions. Therefore, inside painting in that era was still much more of a commercial craft rather than a creative art.


In fact, by definition, all commissioned portraits must be copies, as must be all bottles that are painted based on other works of art such as illustrations in wildlife books, catalogs of Chinese vases and bronzes, and photographs. These days many copy paintings are done from pictures downloaded from the Internet. Thus. We come to creativity, and this is where I think that Very Modern inside painting becomes exciting and real art at last begins! This is also why in Part I of this article I specifically segregated the Very Modern period from the rest of the whole Modern period from its origin in about 1960. It seems to me that true creativity within the Modern Schools of inside painting only really started at the very end of the twentieth century and then grew on a wider scale at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with the tipping point being about the year 2000.

All the artists whose work I show from here onward belong to the Ji School because that truly wherein lies the fount of creativity in the Very Modern period. It is generally accepted that one of the earliest Very Modern period artists to break away from the copy-painting tradition was Liu Yizi 劉藝子 (not to be confused with his father Liu Ziyi 劉子藝 who was one of Wang Xisan's first students in the 1960s ). Starting in the early 1990s, Liu Yizi began creating some of the most innovative bottles painted up to that time (fig. 20). Liu Yizi did not specifically focus on Chinese landscapes, but I have selected four examples of his best works that are landscapes for consistency in this article. Even if one does not particularly like the style of these paintings, one must surely agree that these works are far more creative than most of what was painted previously by senior artists (e.g., see figs. 18 and 19).



Creative Chinese landscapes: 1990 to 2000: Liu Yizi. D.D Art snuff bottle
Creative Chinese landscapes: 1990 to 2000: Liu Yizi. Fig 20

Creative Chinese landscapes: 1990 to 2000: Wang Guanyu. D.D Art
Creative Chinese landscapes: 1990 to 2000: Wang Guanyu. Fig 21

Concurrently with Liu Yizi, one of the most talented artists of the whole Modern period I know of, Master Wang Guanyu 王冠宇, was creating new art forms inside bottles (fig. 21). I regret that by the time I started collecting seriously, Wang Guanyu's works were already far beyond my budget. Note the radical difference between Wang Guanyu's new works in the 1990s, many of which are in fact landscapes, and the copy painting he did less than a decade earlier in the mid-1980s (figs. 21 and 18). Wang Guanyu continues to paint in the same beautiful free, creative style (fig. 22).



Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Wang Guanyu. Fig 22
Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Wang Guanyu. Fig 22

The great majority of Wang Guanyu's bottles painted in the 1990s, and early 2000s were collected by the Nanyang Group in Singapore, which was far ahead of most of the rest of the world in recognizing and supporting new creative talent among inside-painting artists. It is not just the older generation of masters who are now painting in this new, creative, abstract style. The latest generation of artists in their forties, thirties, and even late twenties are doing so, using all the new painting skills that have been developed in the past fifty years and enriched by the free-flowing tradition of the Ji School.

I think it's no exaggeration to say that most young artists today can paint better technically, i.e., more skillfully, in their late twenties than the masters of the Early Modern and "True" Modern periods could paint in their fifties. To paint creatively, however, is an entirely different matter. Only really great artists have the ability to create original masterpieces, and that is as true of inside painting as of any other art form.

Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Hu Xiaoran. D.D Art snuff bottle
Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Hu Xiaoran. Fig 23

In figures 23, through 25 I present some recent Chinese landscape works by three younger artists whose highly original styles I greatly admire: Hu Xiaoran 胡曉然 (also known as Xiao Quan 小泉 ),Suo Jing 索境 and Sun Honglin 孫洪林. These three are just a few of a growing group of artists in the Ji School who are pioneering new painting styles - - and even new painting techniques, as is the case with Sun Honglin in particular. Other than some of the bottles by Suo Jing, which I have taken from other sources, all of the bottles shown are from my own collection.



Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Suo Jing. Fig 24
Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Suo Jing. Fig 24

Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Sun Honglin. D.D Art snuff bottle
Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Sun Honglin. Fig 25

Last, we come to one of the most talented and creative artists I know, Fu Guoshun付國順, who was recently awarded the title of Grand Master (fig. 26). Compare Fu Guoshun's recent works with what he painted in the 1980s (fig. 19). One of his finest works, shown in the middle of Figure 26, is the most beautiful bottle I have ever seen and is truly creative Very Modern inside painting at its very best ㅡ and certainly real art!



Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Fu Guoshun. D.D Art
Creative Chinese landscapes: 2000 to today: Fu Guoshun. Fig 26


Chinese landscapes from the Middle period to the Very Modern period. D.D Art snuff bottle
Chinese landscapes from the Middle period to the Very Modern period. Fig 27

In summary, as we review the development of inside painting through the whole Modern period and into the Very Modern period, we can see quantum leaps not only in painting skill but also in creativity (fig. 27). If space were sufficient, I would also introduce the recent works of Yuan Shijia 苑世甲, Wang Dongrui 王東瑞, Kang Fuchang 康福昌 and Li Aiqin 李愛钦 of the Ji School and Zhang Luhua 彰路 of the Lu School, examples of all of whose bottles were recently published in Li Yizi's landmark 2011 book titled, Exploring the Unknown 未知的拓展. Also, I would introduce the highly individualistic style of Zhang Yong 張勇, also known as Da Yong大勇, whom I personally regard as one of the most influential younger artists of the Very Modern period.


I am sure that other collectors of Very Modern period bottles in the Society would like to add several more names of artists whom they feel deserve wider appreciation outside China. I would endorse their recommendations to publicize those artists' works in the Journal in the coming years. I, therefore, do hope that my two-part article on Contemporary Schools of Inside Painting is certainly not the last word on this subject, but merely the first word.

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