September to October 2002 Editorial

I WOULD LIKE to commence my Editorial in this important snuff bottle issue by thanking those outstanding contributing collectors, writers and specialist snuff bottle dealers for their generous support in taking part. As I forecast in my July-August 2002 Editorial the issue has been designed to specifically coincide with a topical exhibition of inside-painted snuff bottles opening at the Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong on October 19th, 2002, and The International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society’s Singapore Convention, October 22nd-25th, 2002. This present edition with its erudite articles and beautiful illustrations from many areas of snuff bottle collecting surely deserves its place in snuff bottle collectors’ libraries where Arts of Asia numbers are most likely to be found featuring articles by prestigious names in this field, such as Michael Kaynes (September-October 1971), Hugh Moss (July-August 1972), Bob Stevens (July-August 1973), Edward O’Dell / John Ford / A. Stempel (November-December 1976), Wang Xisan (September-October 1984), Mary and George Bloch (September-October 1990), Joe Grimberg / Patrick Kwok (November-December 1993), J & J / Clare (Lawrence) Chu (November-December 1998).

As one of the earliest surviving Honorary Members of The International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society my own snuff bottle collection is also not unknown and has been written about several times including most recently by expert author Robert Kleiner. Recognised as one of the world’s major authorities on snuff bottles, Robert now describes and illustrates fifty examples, mainly from “the realms of the Imperial” of the “Treasured Snuff Bottles from the collection of Mr and Mrs Denis Low”. The strengths of this article more than justify its position as the first of the snuff bottle features in the magazine. And it surely confirms “the increasing respect with which these miniature treasures of the Qing dynasty are now being held by all who are interested in the unparalleled treasure trove of art created under the patronage of the successive emperors of the Qing, between 1644-1911”.

Denis Low (1) is seen in my office, where we are standing together before a historic painting of children presenting flowers to the late Chairman Mao Zedong (a painting which in its day travelled to official exhibitions in many parts of China). The main purpose of his short visit to Hong Kong in the first week of July was to put the final touches to his coming book More Treasures from the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect. I am also happy he found time to answer a few of my questions for our international readers.

A retired Singapore real-estate consultant and now private venture capitalist, Denis graduated from Singapore University with a degree in estate management from the faculty of architecture. A fifth generation Singaporean, he and his charming wife Seok Eng’s families came from Swatow, South China. They work together in their business, Low & Low Holdings Pte Ltd, and have two daughters, ages eleven and twenty-two. Denis Low has always been a passionate collector. He first became interested in snuff bottles when he walked into Patrick Kwok’s gallery in Singapore together with S.L. Tan to see a Wang Xisan snuff bottle. He ended up buying four snuff bottles including three by Wang Xisan. That was in 1979. Subsequently he started buying from other galleries in Singapore and at Sotheby’s auctions in London, Hong Kong and New York. He remembers meeting Robert Kleiner at one of the Tresors art fairs that used to be held in Singapore in the early 1990s. The Singapore snuff bottle collector Joe Grimberg also introduced him to Hugh Moss. He had read Hugh’s books and was surprised to find he was so young. At Tresors he also met Robert Hall but only started buying from him when his own collecting started to get serious later in the 1990s.

His collection now numbers some 900 snuff bottles. “Some snuff bottles” he says, “are easy to like”, such as glass. But he is returning to pieces with a good feel in the hand-tactile pieces such as jade and stone, even rock crystal and agate, pieces which have weight. Amber he finds is too light and does not give a solid enough feel. But amazingly he says he does not look at his bottles too often. He collects in many fields, including cars, Cartier jewellery (panthers and other cats), watches and mystery clocks.

His advice for collectors is to always buy the best you can afford or buy what you like, and do not think about the investment. “I tell everyone that I am passionate not about the snuff bottles but the chase in collecting”. He is a relative newcomer in the past ten years to collecting snuff bottles intensively compared to some of the late names in this world I have known, such as Edward O’Dell, Bob C. Stevens and Mr and Mrs A. Stempel.

Humphrey K. F. Hui, who writes in this issue of our magazine on “Meetings in Support of Inkplay in Microcosm with Masters Wang Xisan and Lu Shouben”, is a well-known collector of Chinese snuff bottles which have been exhibited in Hong Kong, Australia and the United States. He bought the first few bottles as early as in l978, however it was only after a lapse of ten years that he began collecting seriously. He first became known to me in the collecting world through his joint book An Imperial Tradition, 1994, published in Hong Kong by Humphrey K. F. Hui and Christopher C. H. Sin, and designed with Rosanne Chan, which catalogue their exhibition held first at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (December 8th, 1994-February 5th, 1995) and then at Phoenix Art Museum (February 15th, 1995-April 15th, 1995).

Humphrey has also exhibited in many and various collective exhibitions, such as A Congregation of Snuff Bottle Connoisseurs” an exhibition of Chinese snuff bottles held at The Tsui Museum of Art in 1996. This was intended to reflect the international image of Hong Kong before its return to China in July 1997. The exhibition was initiated and coordinated by Christopher C. H. Sin.

An Imperial theme continues in Humphrey’s The Imperial Connection: Court Related Chinese Snuff Bottles, 1998, published by the Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Again, rather more than a catalogue, a hard cover book in English and Chinese, it has a Preface by Mayching Kao (Director, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong) and articles by Xia Gengqi and Zhang Rong (Palace Museum, Beijing) who summarise the varieties of snuff bottles in The Humphrey K. F. Hui Collection, such as Glass (Monochrome, Overlay, Stir Glass, Carved Glass, Enamels on Glass); Nephrite; Quartz and Stones (Agate, Chalcedony, Quartz, Turquoise, Shale, Tianhuang); Porcelain; Organic (Gourd, Bamboo Veneer, Cinnabar on Lacquer, Jet); Metal (Cloisonné Enamels, Enamels on Copper).

In addition it has a final article by Peter Y. K. Lam, in his inimitable scholarly fashion, “Studio Marks in Imperial and Court Related Snuff Bottles”, which recounts, with site plans and relevant Chinese seal marks, what is known and to what can be attributed (and/or can not be attributed) various hall marks: Guyuexuan (Ancient Moon Pavilion); Jiale Tang (Hall of Fine Happiness); Yijin Zhai (The Jin Bequest Studio); Yangzheng Shuwu (Study for the Nourishment of Integrity); Shende Tang (Hall of Prudent Virtue); Xingyoubeng Tang (Hall of Perseverance); Tuisi Tang (Hall of Retiring for Contemplation).

Since World War Two a revived international interest in snuff bottle collecting came as a result of the publication by Charles E. Tuttle Company (Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan) of Chinese Snuff Bottles-The Adventures and Studies of a Collector, 1960 by Lilla S. Perry, and the enthusiasm of a small band of American collectors and collector-dealers, such as Gertrude Stuart. About this time I also began collecting.

Internationally interest was reinforced as a result of the comprehensive book by the late Bob C. Stevens, The Collector’s Book of Snuff Bottles, First Edition, 1976, Weatherhill (New York, Tokyo). At that time Bob Stevens was living in Tokyo, and Hong Kong was on his itinerary when for expatriate visa reasons he was required every six months to leave Japan. On part of these world vacations he was accompanied by other friends and knowledgeable snuff bottle experts, such as Hugh Moss. Thereby expanding his considerable knowledge, snuff bottle references and photographs for his book.

Although I have devoted much of my Editorial to the inside-painting area of snuff bottles, I would especially like to focus here for our worldwide readers’ information on this issue’s lead article by curator Lisa Rotondo-McCord, “17th-20th Century Japanese Painting from the Gitter-Yelen Collection at the New Orleans Museum of Art”. Already Japanese art has received much interest from our readers this year as a result of the March-April 2002 issue which covered Japanese exhibitions held in London. The Gitter-Yelen Collection travels during the next two years in America where it will be seen from August 31st-October 26th, 2002 at the New Orleans Museum of Art; March 10th-June 15th, 2003 at the Seattle Art Museum; and at the Japan Society, New York, from March 10th-June 15th, 2004.

Appropriately, it is an American collection devoted primarily to Japanese painting of the Edo period (1615-1868) as well as paintings by Japanese artists up to and including the first half of the 20th century. As Lisa Rotundo-McCord’s descriptive and clearly presented article notes, these paintings by twenty-four different artists have been brought together by the discerning eye of careful and perceptive collectors and illuminate many of the major artistic currents. The exhibition of nearly one hundred and forty scrolls, screens, handscrolls and fans surely deserves your visit.

We have been following the progress of the painter and poet Chan Ky-Yut with great interest, not least because born in China in 1940 he was for the most part educated in Hong Kong where he held his first exhibition in 1968. More exhibitions followed in Hong Kong in the next two years and in 1999 he held a solo exhibition of twenty-five years of his work at the Baur Collections, Geneva, Switzerland.

Fundamentally an action painter using the calligraphic skills which he inherited and developed in China and Hong Kong, his paintings express a joyful spirit through their lively use of colour and can be subject to a variety of interpretations. The colophons down the sides, from his own brush, in Chinese characters in the main state where and when the works are painted (2), though occasionally his own poems accompany his paintings, or he paints to accompany the poems of others.

Chan Ky-Yut’s work is on exhibit now at the T. T. Tsui Gallery of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where it opened in May and will be celebrated in a special way this September. According to Ming Wilson, the museum’s Exhibition Officer, “His paintings, especially the large-scale ones, can lead viewers into a dream world where everything is bright and full of vitality. Looking at Full Moon Forever Dreaming, the special commission for the V & A, what the eyes see are from a void, motion and stillness, colours and black ink, and what the mind experiences are energy, transcendence and total freedom.” The famous London museum has also commissioned Chan to create a book of his poetry and watercolours. To celebrate her twenty-five years in business, Chinese costume and textile specialist Linda Wrigglesworth will be presenting “Creative Momentum”, an exhibition of twenty-five Imperial Chinese dragon roundels of the 17th-19th centuries integrated with the contemporary Tibetan calligraphic art of their resident artist Tashi Mannox. The exhibition will be held simultaneously on two sites in London, the Linda Wrigglesworth Gallery at 34 Brook Street, and the White Room of The Metropolitan Hotel in Old Park Lane. It opens on 4th November and runs until 14th December, 2002.

The art of Tashi Mannox, who trained for sixteen years as a Tibetan monk, embodies primarily the spirit of Tibetan iconography. “Creative Momentum” fuses Tashi’s contemporary expression of creative energy with the traditional Imperial insignia made in silk. Seen here in the background is his calligraphic work Self Arising, ink on paper mounted on board (3).

In the foreground are two 19th century roundels both with front-facing, five-clawed Imperial dragons. The roundel on the left is a kesi silk tapestry from an Imperial consort’s semi-formal court robe decorated with eight roundels (1821-1850). The blue satin roundel on the right is from an Imperial nobleman’s surcoat (1850-1870).

According to Myrna Myers, “Ornament and costumes are two complementary aspects of a single theme: the importance of dress and adornment in marking degrees of power and prestige in Chinese society.” From September 19th-October 19th Myrna Myers will present in her gallery at 11 Rue de Beaune, 75005 Paris, France, “The Language of Adornment”, an exhibition of an unusual ensemble of Chinese hardstone ornaments from the Neolithic period to the Qing dynasty. Of special interest is a rare group of jades, rock crystal and amber of the Liao dynasty, which ruled parts of China from the 10th-12th century. Illustrated is a pair of Liao dynasty monkeys riding horses carved in rock crystal (top pair) (4).

These ornaments are rebuses or compositions with Chinese alternative meanings. In this case suggesting, “May you rapidly be ennobled.” From the same Liao dynasty period Myrna Myers is showing a pair of small green jade containers in the form of swans, with incised gold inlay and gold caps; and a pair of rock crystals with gold inlay carved as makara water creatures, derived from Indian mythology, with scaly bodies and elephant-trunk, wide-mouth monster heads (bottom pair).

An earlier example of the paired animal theme comes from the exhibition that John Eskenazi will be presenting at The International Fine Art & Antique Dealers’ Show at the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York which is open to the public from October 18th-24th, 2002. But in this reddish brown sandstone frieze from Madhya Pradesh (Central India), dating from the 3rd century, a lion is pursued by a hunting dog (5).

“In Iran the lion symbolised royal power and the Kushans, familiar with Iranian ideas, felt the lion to be an appropriate symbol when first asserting their rule over northwestern India. To the indigenous population of India the lion represented the religious strength of Buddhism so when the Kushans adopted Buddhist beliefs, the use of the lion motif increased. The dog on the frieze is similar to those depicted on Assyrian friezes, its heavy strength in direct contrast with the sinuous, elegant lion.” To complete my final page of Editorial I return to the interview form which I acquired as a young journalist student at Mundelein College for Women in Chicago and honed on television exposures, such as “Meet the Press” in America and Hong Kong. Perhaps I should declare here my own interests as a foreign correspondent for many years after marriage in 1959 which brought me to live overseas. My purpose in founding Arts of Asia in 1970 was to promote understanding, goodwill and friendship between people across the world. So I am delighted that art now flourishes in China and that collecting is accepted as a support of historical knowledge and culture and a benefit of wealth.

Seen at my office on July 10th this year is Mrs Yannan Wang who is President of China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd (2-603 Henderson Center, 18 Jianguomennei St, Beijing, 100005 China) (6). In the course of our interview we discussed the most recent collecting and auctioneering trends.

Tuyet Nguyet-As President of China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd what are the changes you have seen over the last ten years in the PRC in the collecting and auctioneering of works of art in a public and open manner in relation to the established collections and the general public? Yannan Wang-Over the last ten years the auctions have really modernised the sale of works of art in the PRC. We can say the appearance of auctions is a landmark for the sale of works of art in the PRC. Through the open and public auctions, collectors can have a greater chance to learn and appreciate art. It is also more convenient for them to buy their favourite art.

What do you forecast for the future and in particular the impact on people in Asia and the West, and your own collectors who are increasingly bidding on very expensive works of art?

I think the PRC is becoming the selling market centre for Chinese works of art. It is a good place to buy and sell art. With steady economic development, the government has relaxed the policy on the protection of art. I am very optimistic about the future of the Chinese market for trading art.

In the wider way how do you see the impact on the ordinary people and their lives…Do you see more Chinese works of art in homes? Do you see the expanding of decorative works such as woodcuts, paper cuttings and modern Chinese paintings, including works in oil, in people’s homes?

In recent years Chinese residents have very much improved their living conditions. Most families like to decorate their homes (paintings on walls, works of art in cabinets). With better economic situation, some people are actively choosing their favourite works of art for their homes. Of course, due to the different tastes or economic situation of each family, the decorations would include woodcuts, paper cuttings, oil paintings, etc.

What are the areas of collecting in China that differ from the outside? How do collectors actually display their antiques? In fact do they display their antiques in their own home or do they consider them cultural treasures to be carefully stored?

Chinese collectors still mainly collect Chinese paintings and calligraphy. This has been the traditional way of thinking and also there are many Chinese paintings and calligraphy in the market, which helps to make this the most popular field of collecting. I think this differs from Western collectors. In recent years works of art including rare books, ceramics and modern art has also quickly developed in the China art market.

In China many people like to display their art collections in their companies or homes. But many collectors who consider their pieces cultural treasures would store them in a very proper way and would take them out to show their friends to appreciate and enjoy.

Where can you source top-quality works of arts such as Chinese porcelains and early paintings, which are fresh to the market? As we know established dealers and collectors are willing to pay very high prices for the pieces.

We are stationed in China so we source mostly within our country. We have started to try as much as possible to source from overseas.

How do you plan to auction the middle-market items, such as jade carving and Chinese modern painting for a wider audience?

We have major sales twice a year and since 1994 also hold minor ones every two months for lower value items. These have been very successful and there is a wonderful atmosphere at such events. At these minor auctions we sell paintings and calligraphy, antiques, watches, cameras, jade and jewellery. This allows more people to collect in different price ranges and categories. They are happy with the auctions and support them. In the first sales there were 300 lots (US$70,00 total value), which have increased over the last eight years to 2000 lots (US$850,000 total value).

Are you optimistic about the future and can you describe your plans? I was very impressed to know that you recently sold a very important Chinese Song handscroll for over US$3 million. I understand the seller and buyer were both from America. Will you be able to continue to receive and sell important works of art to satisfy the increasing demand of Chinese collectors living in China?

I am very optimistic about the future. The 2002 spring auction for the Rare Birds Painted from Life handscroll, attributed to Emperor Hui Zong (1082-1135) of the Song dynasty, was very successful. It encourages us. I think the Chinese works of art market is very good and we will work harder to satisfy the increasing needs of Chinese collectors. Our next auction is on November 3rd, with two days of previews on November 1st and 2nd.

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