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Modern Art of Snuff Bottle

Chinese Art : The history behind Yihuzhai snuff bottle of beautiful paintings


For many collectors, the term "Yihuzhai" (一壺齋 / One Bottle Studio ) is a common term for the study of contemporary inside-painted snuff bottles. These words aren't uncommon on some inside painting snuff bottles dated to late 20th. However, only a few people are aware of the background of Yihuzhai. The Yihuzhai has a very prominent position in the history of modern inside-painted snuff bottles. It symbolizes not only the survival of modern snuff bottles but also the transition from antique to contemporary art. This article will bring you throughout the history and its development. Estimated reading time: 5 mins


When it comes to the topic regarding the origins of the JI school, it is no doubt that it came from the Ye family. Two masters, Wang Xisan and Liu Shouben are as significant successors passing down the skill to the next generation. At beginning of startup, the first workshop was founded in December 1972 in Fucheng County, a suburb of Hebei. The founding team includes Wang Xisan and Zhang Rucai, Liu Heping, Dong Kun, and Duo Chengyun. Five members constitute the studio where was the first location for modern inside-painted snuff bottles.



Wang Xisan pictured in Fucheng workshop in the Year of 1972. D.D Art snuff bottle
Wang Xisan pictured in Fucheng workshop in the Year of 1972


Nevertheless, the Cultural Revolution at the time had caused fundamental damage to China's technological and cultural development. All industries were in ruins, with few products that could be exchanged for foreign currency such raw material, coal and some Chinese-style crafts, of which snuff bottles were one example. This shows that the background of the founding time was challenging to the artists in sustaining life, not to mention making profit. In the early 1970s, to revive the economy and the national culture, which the Cultural Revolution had destroyed, the Chinese government began to executive actively policy to restore the traditional arts and crafts industry, providing funds and resources to recast art and craft workshops throughout the country. It's, however, just in the very early stage for any developments.


All painters pictured in Fucheng Workshop in Year of 1976. D.D Art snuff bottle
All painters pictured in Fucheng Workshop in Year of 1976

In 1977, the Hengshui government ordered to transfer of the studio to the Hengshui Region were only provided two rooms in the building of the Hengshui Region Bureau as studios. This place was the so-called "Hengshui Region Arts & Crafts Factory "( 衡水地區特種工藝廠 ), where was later called the predecessor of the Yihuzhai. This industry gradually took shape during this period, with these five artists being the first member in inside painting. However, before its founding, Wang Xisan had been using this name, Yihuzhai, but only for the paintings and the self-proclaim. The Yihuzhai is yet to be commonly found in the snuff bottles as a trademark.


Wang Xisan was teaching his students at Hengshui Region Arts & Crafts Factory in the Year of 1980

The founding of Yihuzhai:


After establishing the Hengshui Region Arts & Crafts Factory, the first building exclusively for inside painted snuff bottles was officially completed in December 1980, with a total of 1,700 square meters of space. They recruited the new painters three times, respectively in the year of 1977, 1979, and 1982. The total number of people reached more than 30 outstanding and selective painters. In 1983, Hengshui officially became a city, so the Hengshui Region, Arts & Crafts Factory, was officially renamed as "Hengshui Arts & Crafts Factory ". Each painter had various reign marks on the snuff bottle during this period, depending on personal preference. Some were Yihuzhai, and some were Moxiangzhai (墨香齋), and so on. Hengshui city becomes the hotbed for modern snuff bottle.


In 1984, to unify the reign mark. "Yihuzhai" was formally registered as a trademark, and the Yihuzhai Arts & Crafts Co., Ltd. was established in 2003 and Zhang Rucai , who also contributed a lot to the development of modern snuff bottle, was the General Manger in charge of Yihuzhai at the time. By contrast, Wang Xisan put more energies into teaching new blood and only in position of company's consultant. Contemporary inside painting has begun to have brand awareness since 2003. Afterward, it becomes norm for many artists to put their own names on their works. But, to be noted that from the 1980s to 2003, another main reason why most artists did not put their names is that most of the painters were young apprentices. Their painting skills in inside painting were not mature enough as known to people that the craft of inside painting is tough. So most of them did not keep their styles and artist's name on the bottle. These snuff bottles could be collectively called apprentice bottles or student's bottles.


In 2010, Master Wang Xisan formally authorized his only overseas student Xu Liwei to manage the overseas market, expecting the modern inside painting to flourish outside the China realm in the future. Xu Liwei is currently the expert recruited in D.D Art, providing genuine advice to the western collector in selecting the snuff bottle. The below calligraphy is now displayed in D.D Art's snuff bottle gallery in Taiwan (R.O.C).


Wang Xisan wrote a calligraphy " Yihuzhai snuff bottle " to his favorite student, Xu Liwei at Year of 2010. D.D Art snuff bottle
Wang Xisan wrote a calligraphy " Yihuzhai snuff bottle " to his favorite student, Xu Liwei at Year of 2010


In Conclusion:


The establishment of Yihuzhai represents the rise of the inside painting. It boosts the development of the modern inside painted snuff bottle and spares no effort to cultivate the new artist in terms of education. In addition to these accomplishments, it's also the very first time transforming the snuff bottle into a commercial handicraft. The price is affordable, so more people / tourists who are new to the field can understand the culture and the historical connotation behind the snuff bottle. At present, many collectors have the works signed Yihuzhai (一壺齋) snuff bottles, which can be divided into early and late works. Most of the late works are commercial snuff bottles, mainly from the untraceable apprentices because if it were from artist, then the artist would However, if it is the early work, it may be from the painter of the master Mr. Wang Xisan or others early artists.


Concurrently, Yihuzhai Co., Ltd. is actively developing and expanding, focusing on developing new products, such as teapots, etc., which are sold to the United States, Britain, Germany, France, etc., big city. In 2021, Yihuzhai Co., Ltd. also announced the construction of a new museum as the development base of contemporary inside painting, inviting people from all over the world to join in the grand event and savor the beauty of inside painting snuff bottles closer.


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