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Details & Cataloguing

Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, Scholarly Art III

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Hong Kong

A BOXWOOD 'MAGPIES AND PRUNUS' BRUSHPOT
BY TANG ZU
QING DYNASTY, 17TH / 18TH CENTURY
THIS IS A PREMIUM LOT. CLIENTS WHO WISH TO BID ON PREMIUM LOTS MAY BE REQUESTED BY SOTHEBY'S TO COMPLETE THE PRE-REGISTRATION APPLICATION FORM AND TO DELIVER TO SOTHEBY'S A DEPOSIT OF HK$2,500,000, OR SUCH OTHER HIGHER AMOUNT AS MAY BE DETERMINED BY SOTHEBY'S, AND ANY FINANCIAL REFERENCES, GUARANTEES AND/OR SUCH OTHER SECURITY AS SOTHEBY'S MAY REQUIRE IN ITS ABSOLUTE DISCRETION AS SECURITY FOR THE BID. THE BIDnow ONLINE BIDDING SERVICE IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR PREMIUM LOTS.

of irregular form, modelled as a section of a mature prunus tree, deftly detailed with gnarls and occasional bark splits simulating insect damage, set on the sides with three blossoming and budding branches springing from the main trunk, bearing five-petal flowers, the most elaborate bloom admired by a pair of plump magpies perched on the tips of two subsidiary twigs, all naturalistically and meticulously carved in high relief and openwork, signed near the base in running script with two characters Youqi, followed by two seals, Tang and Zu, the smooth patinated wood of a warm honey-brown tone, fitted wood base
14 cm., 5 1/2  in.
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Exposition

Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss, Arts from the Scholar’s Studio, Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1986, cat. no. 59 and dust jacket.

Description

The present spectacular brushpot is a masterpiece by the early Qing dynasty artist and wood carver Tang Zu, zi Youqi, a native of Taiping in Anhui province. Tang is recorded in the Zhongguo yishujia zhenglue [Brief introduction of Chinese artists] published in late Qing / Republican period as ‘good at carving old wood roots into figures, birds and animals, noting that once in the hand they are difficult to put down’. The same information is repeated in Zhongguo meishujia renming cidian [A biographical dictionary of Chinese artists], Shanghai, 1963 which cites the source being from the Linguo fu Gazette, while Yang Tingfu in Zhongguo lidai shuhua zhuankejia zihao suoyin [Index of studio names of painters, calligraphers and seal carvers through the ages], Beijing, 1960, adds that Tang worked during the Kangxi period.

No other comparable example appears to be recorded. The rarity is enhanced by the exceptional quality of the carving and the fact that it bears the signature of a recorded Kangxi literatus who is famed for his wood carvings. Tang has rendered his composition with extraordinary observation and insight, showing his ability to depict not only what may be observed but also what lies behind a phenomena. The two plump magpies are finely depicted with the branches, twigs and flowers exquisitely carved. The juxtaposition of the smoothed and polished bark with the rough insect damage is also special, and indicate the artist’s understanding of nature where insects have no respect for artistic sensibility.

For other boxwood brushpots, see for example one in the form of a pine tree trunk, naturalistically carved with an eagle perched on a single branch, from the collection of Mary and George Bloch, sold twice in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 1, and 8th October 2010, lot 2181. See also a small brushpot carved in the shape of an old prunus stump illustrated in Paul Moss, Documentary Chinese Works of Art in Scholar’s Taste, London, 1983, pl. 72. Further compare a hardwood brushpot carved in high relief with prunus blossom, bamboo and pine growing from amongst pierced rockwork formations, sold in our London rooms, 4th May 1984, lot 273, from the collection of the late Miss M. Beasley. 

Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection, Scholarly Art III

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Hong Kong