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Modern Art of Snuff Bottle

Yue school: A distinctive style of inside painted snuff bottle

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

In early modern inside paintings, there is very little information about the Yue school (Guangdong). This article has to be attributed to the selfless sharing from the current Yue inheritor, Lai Sijia, who is the son of Lai Yining. We speculate the scarce information regarding the Yue school is partially due to the two factors. Firstly, as far as we know, apart from the Ji school, there are not many apprentices in each school. This has caused limitations for the inheritance of skills. Secondly, the last and most important point, the technology is not taught outwardly as Yue school is relatively conservative compared to other schools. These reasons have had an indispensable influence on the inheritance of the Yue style.

However, this does not mean that the importance of Yue schools is insufficient. Indeed, the Yue style has played an important role in the development of inside painting art. Its style is greatly different from the Beijing style, the Ji style, and the Lu style in terms of painting tools, painting techniques, composition styles, bottle shape, and exterior decoration. Here are the background idea of others inside painting schools. The snuff bottle of Yue school is a magnificent work in the inside painting world. Since the number of Yue school’s works is not painted in large quantity, and most of Lai Yining’s works have been chiefly acquired by the Chinese government in the recent year, the value of their works is not only high at artistic value, but also at collection value. If the collectors have the opportunity to get a glimpse of the style on Yue school’s snuff bottle, it is necessary to add some uniqueness to your collection.

Yue inside painting school: a inside painted snuff bottle by Lai Sijia
Yue inside painting school: a work by Lai Sijia

The Story of Yue School

Yue School was established in 1972. Wu Songling is the leading master in Yue inside painting school. After Wu Singling retired, his successor was the Lai Yining, who entered the Shantou Institute of Arts and Crafts in 1972. During this time, Lai Yining learned the styles and techniques from his teacher, Wu Songling. In 1985, Yue school reached its peak. According to the record, 63 inside painting professional painters are engaged in art painting. Nowadays, the Yue school has been solely passed on by Lai Sijialai, the son of Lai Yining. In 2008, Lai Sijialai was evaluated by the Guangdong Municipal Government as the provincial inheritor of the Yue Inside Painting School. He was carried out this mission to continue to pass down these skills.

The Yue inside painting is quite different from other schools in north China. It can be divided into the four characteristics as follow:

The features of Yue School inside painting

1. Artistic style

Yue school's inside painting is most profoundly influenced by the "Lin-nan school," which could explain why Yue school developed into its own style. Their paintings are based on meticulous Chinese brushwork techniques combined with Chinese and Western styles. The main themes are landscapes, flowers and birds, animals, and characters. Among it, the Yue school's style is particularly known for delineating the subject of human characters. The depicted figure is vivid and lifelike. In addition, as mentioned above, Yue school is vastly influenced by the artistic style of the Lin-nan School; the landscape pictures are rich in layering and in the used colors, which led to a "strong visual expression." This school has a modern painting framework. It is an innovative style in the genre of inside painting.

Yue inside painting school: a example of Yue style's work.
Yue inside painting school: an example of Yue style's artwork. Picture from China KKnews

2. The shape of the snuff bottle is "Round"

Compared with the flat bottle shape used widely by other schools, the Yue school master Wu Songling made a breakthrough in using the round shape of bottles for painting. This becomes a major feature of Yue school. If observed, you'll find that most of the bottle shapes of Yue school's works are like vases, and the round snuff bottles look quite attractive and charming. It reveals a brand-new look of the inside painted snuff bottle. However, it should be noted that the "early" works of Yue School were still presented in a common flattened shape.

Yue school: a complete set of the Chinese Zodiaca, snuff bottle
Yue school: a complete set of the Chinese Zodiaca

3. The uniqueness of the painting tool

Among Jing, Ji, and Lu schools, the artists are all painted with the hooked writing brush. However, in Yue school, Wu Songling developed a “curved brush” in 1986, using electronic wire to make a hook-shaped pen and inserting a soft and flexible animal hair into the nib. According to the Lai Sijialai, the operation usage and brushwork of these special tools are similar to those of traditional Chinese painting. This is much easier to paint and draw compared to a hooked writing pen.

Yue school: unique painting tools "curved brush". Picture from China KKnews
Yue school: unique painting tools "curved brush". Picture from China KKnews

4. The integration of interior and exterior decoration

It’s also one of the most special characteristics in Yue inside painting school. Compared with other schools' emphasis on inside picture, technique, and artistic style, Yue school’s works pay attention not only to the presentation of the picture inside the snuff bottle but also to the exterior decorations on the snuff bottle. There are two main ways to embellish the snuff bottle. One is to use gold lines attached to the body of the bottle, and the other one is to enamel the outward bottle. Both are required to be made in the firing procedure.

Yue school: a work with golden thread on the snuff bottle
A round bottle with golden thread

The inside painted snuff bottle with gold thread and enamel decoration on the bottle, the painting style will be mostly presented in heavy ink and color, and the painters intend to naturally contrast the painting with the magnificent snuff bottle body. By doing so, it creates a multi-layered, three-dimensional sense, magnificent and colorful style, and luxurious and gorgeous.

In conclusion

Yue school's style is the most distinctive among the four major inside painting schools. Currently, many museums have collected Yue school's artworks. As shown, it has an important role in the history of Chinese inside painting art. However, due to the high requirement of the painters, the long period of studying with disproportionately low income, etc., Yue school's inside painting art is on the verge of losing. It is urgent to take effective protective measures. In the 1990s, Yue school's inside painting was included in one of the eight major folk craft rescue projects in Guangdong Province. However, Lai Sijia has been striving to promote the Yue school's inside painted snuff bottle and pioneers innovation and creativity. It is certain that in the future, this unique technique will be back on track.

190 views3 comments


Rosie B
Rosie B
Oct 07, 2022

I have found a bottle that is suggested to be from the Yue School. Can you confirm this, please.


Po-han Chen
Po-han Chen
Jul 23, 2021

Dear Stoneman,

Thanks you for the additional information. It is very helpful.

And about the shape of Yue School's snuff bottle, their early works indeed were in the common flatten bottle. However, from my perspective, it should be noted that most of their works are presented in round shape bottle more often in the modern times.

Jul 22, 2021

It should be noted that Yue School bottles, also referred to Peach River Studio bottles by many collectors, comes in a common flatten bottle style as well.


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