C onsidered one of the most important and significant archaic bronzes within the field of antiquarianism, the Guo Ji Shi Zi Zu Hu passed through a circle of prominent collectors and literati, including Wu Yun (1811-1883), Li Hongyi (1831-1885) and Zuo An (1864-1940), providing a glimpse into the spirit and zeitgeist of antiquarianism in China in the 19th and early 20th century. The hu was excavated from Fengxiang, Shaanxi province, during the Qing dynasty, and was most likely already discovered by the end of the Qianlong reign.
Wu Yun (literary name Pingzhai and Tuilou) was a native of Anhui, who later moved with his family to Gui’an, in present-day Zhejiang. Having passed the Provincial Examination, he was appointed to several official positions including Magistrate of Suzhou Prefecture. However, his official career was not a smooth ride and eventually he retired in Suzhou. Following the example of many other retired officials, he built a private garden, which he named Ting Feng Yuan or Garden Where One Listens to Maple Trees. During his lifetime, Wu Yun built a remarkable collection of archaic bronzes, seals, paintings and calligraphy. Two important bronze leivessels were his most treasured pieces, and Wu named his study the Liangleixuan or Hall of Two Lei.
In one of his most important works on the study of bronzes, the Liangleixuan yiqi tushi (An illustrated study of the ritual vessels in the Liangleixuan), Wu illustrated a drawing of the present hu, accompanied by a note on its inscription and measurement.
He exchanged letters almost daily with other noted 19th century collectors of Chinese bronzes , such as Pan Zuyin (1830-1890), Wu Dacheng (1835-1901) and Che Jieqi (1813-1884), discussing questions of epigraphy, authenticity, and rubbing techniques.
In a letter to Pan Zuyin included in Liangleixuan chidu (Letters from the Liangleixuan), Wu Yun mentions the gifting of a rubbing of the present lot and a few others to Pan, writing “ … the rubbings of the Guo Hu and the Wu Hu are presented, also including three more rubbings, for your study.…”
In Wu Dacheng’s Kezhai jigu lu (Kezhai’s record of collecting antiquities), a rubbing of the present hu’s inscription was also illustrated, attesting to the friendships that had grown out of their common study of archaic bronzes and inscriptions.
Towards the end of the note on the Guo Ji Shi Zi Zu Hu in Liangleixuan yiqi tushi, Wu Yun noted that “the hu and the Li Ge Fu Ding Yi has been gifted to Li Meisheng.”
Interestingly, Li Meisheng (1831-1885) also gifted Wu the Zhou Ai Hu in his own collection, which later entered the collection of Sakamoto Goró, and was offered at Sotheby’s New York, 18th March 2014, lot 18 (Chinese Art Through The Eye Of Sakamoto Goró. A Bronze Owl Hu).
This exchange was also mentioned in a letter to Chen Jieqi in Wu’s Liangleixuan chidu, “In the winter of xinyou year (1861), Jin Lansheng found this bronze at a metal recycling store in Shanghai. Later he sold it to Li Meisheng (Li Hongyi); I acquired it by exchanging some other pieces with Li."
Li Hongyi, zi Meisheng, was a native of Sichuan, and a follower of Zeng Guofan (1811-1872). He was well known for his military prowess and held very senior government positions including the Director of the Board of War. Like Wu Yun, he had retired to Suzhou, and purchased one of the best gardens, Wan Shi Yuan or Garden of the Master of Nets, for his private residence. Li also had a sizable collection of antiques, and was a friend of Wu Yun, Pan Zuyin, Wu Dacheng and Mo Youzhi (1811-1871) and many other collectors at the time.
As Wu once said, “there are times things come together, but also times when things disperse.” After passing through the collections of Wu Yun and Li Meisheng, the Guo Ji Shi Zi Zu Hu entered the collection of Zou An (1864-1940). Zou An was a Jinshi during the Guangxu reign and a prominent scholar on antiquarianism who authored many important books on the study of bronzes and their inscriptions. In Jinshi xuelu xubu (Sequel to the supplements of the studies of archaic bronze inscriptions), Chu Deyi notes of Zou An and the present hu, writing that he “…sourced and organized more than 2000 pieces of bronze rubbings from various collections, publishing the important Zhoujinwencun (Surviving bronze inscriptions from the Zhou dynasty), which includes the Wu Qi Dui [and] Guo Ji [Shi] Zi Zu Hu….’
Reading through these intimate exchanges between prominent collectors and scholars, one is reminded of the intellectual environment and lively gatherings of this elite group. Behind this golden age of antiquarianism lies a fascination with the past and more importantly, a strong kinship and respect for their contemporaries.
The Guo Ji Shi Zi Zu Hu, Late Western Zhou dynasty, late 9th or 8th century BC
西周末 公元前九世紀末或八世紀 虢季氏子組壺
Estimate: 800,000 - 1,200,000 USD