Chinese Inside Painted Snuff Bottles & ZhiYing Collection (治潁珍藏)

History of Chinese Inside Painted Snuff Bottle

Inside painted snuff bottle is a unique art form of the Chinese Culture. It is believed that the first inside painted bottles was painted sometime between 1795-1800 when China was under the rule of the Jia Qing Emperor.

One legend has it that a lowly ranked official while traveling to Beijing has stopped to rest in a small temple. He had exhausted all his money and nothing was left to buy more snuffing tobacco. Out of desperation when his tobacco addiction kicked in. He used a slender stick to scrape off the remaining tobacco caked on the wall of his clear snuff bottle. The marks left lines and patterns on the inside wall of the bottle. The bottle was seen by a young monk who was inspired by what he saw. Using a thin bamboo stick dipped with ink. He started to experiment painting pictures on the inner wall of the bottle. This has created a new possibility of decorating a snuff bottle.

Another suggestion is that the art of inside painting was developed by the Chinese commercial artists in Guangzhou (Canton). They are commissioned by Europeans to do reverse painted subjects on glass. These painters started to paint pictures on the inner side of clear quartz and glass snuff bottles as an extra income. The first inside painted bottle was done in Guangzhou and soon found its way to Beijing where most of the rich and famous Chinese were.

Our Studio - QingLan Snuff Bottle Retreat (青蘭山房)

At Qing Lan Snuff Bottle Retreat (青蘭山房), we work closely with many Chinese Inner Painted Artists to bring you some of the most intrigue, creative, beautiful and amazing Chinese paintings; all drawn on the inner surface of a little bottle.

The biggest motivation for building this website is to create an easy to access platform for the Chinese artists to showcase their amazing masterpieces. We are sure that the masterpieces shown here are a testament to the inventiveness, creativity and skills of our artists who have dedicated their life to creating these detailed miniature paintings within bottles.

Each bottle is uniquely painted by hand. Some of the more complicated bottles can take a skillful artist more than a month to complete. The best craftsmen can produce only a few bottles in a year.

We hope that you will enjoy this site as much as we do and please drop by and enjoy the collection as often as you can…

ZhiYing Collection of Chinese Snuff Bottle (治潁珍藏)

We will gradually put up our collection of Chinese Snuff Bottles onto the site. This collection is named ZhiYing Collection (治潁珍藏). The collection consists of antique and modern inside painted snuff bottles. Please check back occasionally to see and comment on our collection....... THANKS

ZhiYing Collection 治潁珍藏

The Changes in Wang XiSan’s Studio Name Part 4 (Last) – One Bottle Eight Virtues Studio (1988 – Current) 从王习三的堂名变迁看历史——一壶八德斋(1988年至今)

The Changes in Wang Xi San’s Studio Name Part 4 (Last) – One Bottle Eight Virtues Studio (1988 – Current) 从王习三的堂名变迁看历史——一壶八德斋(1988年至今)

冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 -
Wang Xi San museum entrance



Wang Xi San was elected into the Seventh CPPCC National Committee member in 1988. With his new appointment, Wang began to pay attention to some social issues. He had noticed that some undesirable phenomena is appearing in the society. Fakes, widespread cheating and infringement of intellectual properties are affecting the social norms and orders.

冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 2004年3月全国政协十届二次会议召开,王习三大师向贾庆林主席馈赠鼻烟
Wang Xi San presenting a gift to Jia Qin Lin
冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1989年10月1日,王碧霖老师与王习三师生相会在 全国劳模观礼台上
Wang Xi San with Wang Pi Ling


Impetus of a Legal battle

Wang Xi San has spent many years of commitment and continuous improvement to nourish his studio name. To him, the “One Bottle Studio” was his reputation and he cherished it dearly. Wang is a responsible teacher that hope to help his students succeed as early as possible. To ensure quality work, his apprentices needed to passed a set of rigorous tests before they can use his studio name.

In April 1984, to prevent counterfeiting problems. Wang decided to register his studio name as a trade mark. During that time, he knew nothing about the trademark laws and regulations. In that application, Wang registered the studio name under the state-owned factory instead of his personal name. This mistake left an impetus for a legal battle for his studio name later in the years.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 根据邓友梅小说《烟壶》改编、 李翰祥导演拍摄的电影《八旗子弟》
Movie Poster of the “Eight Banner Army”


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 王习三出演《八旗子弟》剧照
Wang Xi San Acting in the movie “Eight Banner Army”


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1988年,王习三与香港导演李翰祥在冀派内画展会上
Wang Xi San With Movie Director Li Han Siang



One Bottle Eight Virtues Studio (一壶八德斋)

To research into more techniques of painting, Wang started the Heng Shui Wang Xi San Art Institute in 1988. Before long, the works coming out of Wang’s art institute received many positive response from foreign collectors. However, with the increased demand of his bottle, a dishonest market began to emerge. Many low-grade paintings signed off as “One Bottle Studio” began to appear in the market. Desperate to protect his studio name, Wang hoped that the management of the state-owned factory would transfer the ownership of his studio name to him. The management of the factory refused to give in and insisted that the studio name belongs to them.

With no option left, Wang had to change his studio name again. He adopted a modified version of this original studio name “One Bottle with Eight Virtues Studio” (一壶八德斋).  The eight virtues that Wang added are the eight principles of life that he felt essential: filial piety, loyalty, faith, courtesy, righteousness, honesty and integrity. These are the same moral values that Wang emphasizes to his children and students.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1989年,以习三画院名义举办的 首届“习三杯”内画大奖赛
First Wang Xi San Award Competition in 1989


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 落款为“一壶八德斋”之作《红树林湾收获季节》
Bottle by Wang Xi San signed off with “One Bottle Eight Virtues” studio name


Rejuvenating Chinese Art and Culture

The Chinese society has gradually improved in laws and regulations over the years. Art and culture became one of the main focus of development. This attention improved the protection of intellectual property by the authorities. All these positive changes has given artist and artisans a stable and peaceful social environment to practice their trade.

Another piece of great news came in October 18, 2011. During the 6th Session of the 17th CPC Central Committee meeting. The governing party passed an important initiative to support and rejuvenate Chinese art and culture. This initiative was to fund artists that are engaged in traditional arts like Wang Xi San.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1988年出版的《中国内画鼻烟壶新貌》以图文并茂的形式详细介绍了几十位内画艺人的从艺经历和艺术特长,囊括了当时各派有影响力的人员
First Inside Painted Snuff Bottle Book published in 1988


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1992年出版的《中国鼻烟壶珍赏》由耿宝昌、赵炳骅主编,其中内画类由王习三先生执笔
Snuff Bottle Book With Wang Xi San Bottles


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 2009年,由王习三和卢建广合著的《中国民间传统工艺技法系列培训教材▪内画技法》教材正式出版。此教材已被内画学校当作专业教材
Instruction Book on Inside Painting Techniques by Wang Xi San and Lu Jian Guang, written in 2009


Golden Age of Inside Painted Snuff Bottle

With all the years of hard work and innovation, Wang has built a solid foundation for the future. He has made inside painted snuff bottle into an art that is internationally acclaimed. From his stories, one can learn about the development of inside painted snuff bottle in conjunction with the changes in the social. Wang is confident that the golden age of inside painted snuff bottles has just started.

Wang Xi San demonstrating inside painting during an international exchange and exhibition
Wang Xi San demonstrating inside painting during an exhibition


2006, Wang Xi San won the non-tangible cultural award representing inside painted snuff bottle


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 2007年6月,王习三被命名为国家级非物质文化遗产项目衡水内画的代表性传承人
2007 Wang Xi San won the non-tangible cultural award, representing inside painted snuff bottle


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 2008年,王习三被授予首批亚太地区手工艺大师
2008, Wang Xi San at the Asia Award – Arts and Crafts Ceremony


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 2011年,王习三与部分弟子研究内画技法
Taken in 2011, Wang Xi San with his students.


Last Articles on Changes of Wang Xi San’s Studio Name



冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 -

The Changes in Wang XiSan’s Studio Name Part 3 – One Bottle Studio (1968-1988) 从王习三的堂名变迁看历史——一壶斋(1968~1988年)

The Changes in Wang XiSan’s Studio Name Part 3 – One Bottle Studio (1968-1988) 从王习三的堂名变迁看历史——一壶斋(1968~1988年)

冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 《牧牛图》 1969年作于一壶斋
“Shepard” Painted in “One Bottle Studio” (Yi Hu Zhai) in 1969


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 左图《猫》王习三绘于1970年,赠陈润璞,题字为“庚戌秋月师曹克家画意,为润璞贤弟指正。瑞成于一壶斋”
Left:“Cat” Painted in “One Bottle Studio” (Yi Hu Zhai) in 1970. A gift from Wang XiSan to Chen RunPu. Right : Wang XiSan writing on a bottle painted by Chen RunPu


Improving the Village

In 1968, Wang had established his painting business in Yang Zhuang. However, Wang realized that it was impossible to for him to save the village from poverty. To reverse the situation, he would need to involvement all able men, women and children to help.

Wang decided to travel to Tian Jing to persuade factories owner to start-up in the village. He managed to convince a gelatin. a pin factory and some oil mills to set up businesses. With these, the manpower in the village was fully utilized. This brought rapid economic development to the village.

With the extra cash, villagers could improve infrastructure for irrigation and electricity.The could also purchased fertilizers and better farming equipment. These developments increased the financial status of the village. For the first time, the village leaders could distribute cash to the peasants.

Wang felt the sense of fulfillment when he saw tears rolling down the faces of poor farmers. Because of his contributions, Wang became a highly respected person. The village leaders gave him more freedom and time on his own. Wang took this chance to do research on various new techniques of painting and developed the modern brush for inside painting.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1972年,王习三在阜城综合厂内画车间
Wang XiSan Painting at Fu Chen Studio


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1976年,在阜城综合厂合影
Group photo of Wang and his apprentices at FuCheng in 1976


One Bottle Studio (一壶斋)

An old Tian Jin scholar named Gong Wang (龚望) heard about Wang successes in helping the poor. As an encouragement, he invited the famous calligrapher Yu Ming-shan (余明善) to write a banner for him on a piece of Song dynasty rice paper that he had kept for many years.

He selected a verse taken from a late Han Dynasty article He Guan Zhi (鹖冠子) as the encouragement verse for Wang: “When a boat capsized, a gourd bottle that keep you afloat is worth a thousand taels of Gold” (中河失船,一壶千金). In his opinion, he felt that when the time is right, Wang’s painted bottles will also be worth a thousand taels of Gold.

Wang Xi San took this verse as his lifetime motto. Subsequently, he changes his studio name to “One Bottle studio” (一壶斋) as a constant reminder to work hard and strive for the best.

冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1981年,王习三在一壶斋横幅下
Wang XiSan studying under the banner “One Bottle Studio” (Yi Hu Zhai)


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 落款为“一壶斋”之作《螳螂白猫》
“Cat and Preying Mentis” Painted in “One Bottle Studio” (Yi Hu Zhai)

Traitor of the Communist Party

Luck ran out very fast for Wang Xi San. A new initiative by the communist party to uproot capitalization swept over the nation in 1970. The new village leaders was not pleased with Wang Xi San because of the side businesses that he had brought in. Because of that, Yang Zhuang village was declared as “counter-revolutionary” and Wang was named as a traitor of the communist party. For eight months, Wang suffered all kinds of personality and physical tortures and he tried to commit suicide twice. During that horrifying period, the villagers were very sympathetic to him. However, they were powerless against the authorities. The only thing that they could do is to encourage him to live on.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1980年,王习三在特种工艺厂与徒弟交流内画
Wang Xi San and his students, 1980
冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1981年,王习三首次用油画技法 绘制的《耶稣受难之像》
“Crucifixion of Jesus” Painted in “One Bottle Studio” (Yi Hu Zhai) in 1981. This is the first time Wang uses Oil Painting technique in Inside Painting.
冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1983年,王习三参加国际中国鼻烟壶学会活动
Wang attending ICSBS forum in 1983


Saved At Last

No evidences can be found and Wang cannot be convicted. In the meantime, since all businesses were put on hold, the village became poor again. This brought a lot of unhappiness between the new leadership team and the villagers and they were withdrawn soon after. This saved Wang Xi San and the villagers immediately restarted the factories and Wang painting studio.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1984年创作完成的以油彩内画肖像技法为主的《美国历届总统像》,被称之为“美国历史的缩影,中国艺术的结晶”
“The portrait of the Presidents of the United State till 1984”. Showing the history of United States of America using Chinese Art.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1985年,《美国历届总统像》荣获 “百花奖”的金杯“珍品”奖
The “The portraits of the Presidents of the United State till 1984”won the “Hundred Flower Award “Gold award in 1985


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1987年,王习三手捧“百花奖金奖, 弟子也在全国评比中多次获大奖
Wang with his Gold Award from the “Hundred Flower Award” ceremony in 1987. His students also won various important award that year.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1979年王习三荣获首批“中国工艺美术家”称号
Wang awarded the “Chinese Art Master” medal in 1979


Awarded the “Outstanding Youth Award” in 1986


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1988年王习三从艺30周年与部分弟子合影
“30 years in inside painting”. Wang celebrating with his students in 1988 outside his workshop





冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 -

The Changes in Wang XiSan’s Studio Name Part 2 – Semi-farming Studio (1967-1968) 从王习三的堂名变迁看历史——半农斋(1967~1968年)

The Changes in Wang XiSan’s Studio Name Part 2 – Semi-farming Studio (1967-1968) 从王习三的堂名变迁看历史——半农斋(1967~1968年)

冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 -《荷塘清趣》1967年作于天津
Lotus Pond painted in TianJing in 1967


Living In Beijing

Wang XiSan had only left Beijing once and that was when he was 11 years old. At that year, Wang XiSan visited his uncle in the village and stayed there for ten days. Lice laced his clothes at the end of the trip. His mother needed to use boiling water to kill the lice before the clothes can be wore again.

冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1968年王习三在杨庄村的半农斋画室
Wang XiSan working in the “Semi-Farming Studio “in 1968


The Cultural Revolution

Newspapers and radio constantly exposed Wang to propaganda in the city. All he heard about was the greatness of a socialism society. However, during the cultural revolution, the true picture shocked him when he was deported to his home town. Life was not even as good as it used to be. At that time, there was a saying in the village that “The buttocks of the hen is their only bank” (using eggs to exchange for living necessities). Food and basic necessity were limited. Villagers will need to take a loan before they can afford for anything extra.

Many young people were deployed to the rural area in 1967. This was to fulfill the initiative of Chairman Mao’s “Fifty-seven Instructions”. “Agriculture, and farmers must be the most important economic pillar of the society. But due to poor management, a shortage of water and fertilizer, most of the land had terrible harvest. Most farmers were poor and can barely sustain their livelihood.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 落款为“作于半农斋”之作《戊申山水》
Landscape Painting signed off with “Semi-Farming Studio” by Wang XiSan


Setting Up The Trade

Seeing the suffering of the farmers, Wang XiSan wonder if he could create a sideline business – by selling inside painted snuff bottle. The extra cash generated could help the needy farmers. Wang XiSan made a proposal to the leaders of the village revolutionary committee. However, they had never heard or seen an inside painted snuff bottle. Fortunately, Wang had carried along three blanks that was brought from the Red Guards in Beijing. After seeing his painting skill, the village leaders reluctantly allowed Wang to sell his painting through the Tianjing’s foreign trade. Wang also promised to pay for all the expenses.

冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 落款为“作于半农斋”之作《八骏图》
Eight Stallion, signed off with “Semi-Farming Studio” by Wang XiSan


Wang XiSan succeeded in linking up with the Tianjin Arts & Crafts Import and Export Company. His business took off and his earning could subsidized the expenses of the village. The new opportunities delighted the villagers. The best available meeting room in the village was converted to Wang studio. Bright glass windows replaces the old wooden lattice windows.

In 1968, he formally reopened his studio in the rural areas of Hebei Province. Wang named his studio “Semi-farming Studio” (半农斋). This is because he still need to delicate half of his time to farming as per the directive of Chairman Mao.

Closure Of The Studio

Wang was not lucky. In the winter of 1970, a political campaign aimed at cracking down on counter-revolutionary started. The communist party accused Wang of planning to seize power from the party and closed his studio.

冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1968年,王习三绘制的首个《百子图》
The First “100 Children Bottle” painted by Wang XiSan in 1968



冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1968年发明金属杆勾毛笔
The Modern Inside Painting brush, invented by Wang XiSan in 1968


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 -



The Changes in Wang XiSan’s Studio Name Part 1 – TaiPing Zhuang (1961-1966) 从王习三堂名的变迁看历史 — 太平庄(1961~1966年)

The Changes in Wang XiSan’s Studio Name Part 1 – TaiPing Zhuang (1961-1966) 从王习三堂名的变迁看历史 — 太平庄(1961~1966年)


Studio Name

An artist will usually have a studio name, also known as the studio title to represent himself. This name is often used in conjunction with the artist signature when signing off on a piece of artwork.  The studio name of famous Chinese ink brush painter Zhang DaQian (张大千) was called “DaFeng Tang” (大风堂). While as, the famous inside snuff bottle painter, Master Zhou LeYuan (周乐元) was called “OuXiang Zhai” (藕香斋). Studio name is usually a reflection of the artistic style and moral sentiments of the artist. It can also represent the artist’s working environment and situation at that point of time.

An artist is an integral part of the society that he lives in. He is inevitably affected by the community and its events. Other than their individual talent and hard work, the society and the events of the time forms the next key factor of the success for an artist. It is therefore interesting to study an artist’s studio name at different stage of his career. This will give you a glimpse of what was happening to the artist through the years and therefore his painting style at that point of time.


Master Wang XiSan’s Studio Name

Master Wang XiSan (王习三) changes his studio name multiple times throughout his painting career. Wang RuiCheng (王瑞成), or better known as Wang XiSan (王习三), was born in Beijing in 1938 (then called Peking). In 1958, he was fortunate to be selected as an apprentice of Master Ye XiaoFeng and Master Ye BengQi, sons of legendary inside snuff bottle painter Ye ZhongSan. Wang XiSan’s early work in the Beijing’s art school as an apprentice was signed off as devoted to the “capital” or “DuMen”. Later, when he became an established painter, he included his studio name as part of his artwork. Master Wang was to change the name of his studio four times throughout his career.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 《霸王别姬》 创作时间:1964年
Farewell My Concubine 《霸王别姬》Painted by Wang XiSan in 1964. Sold at Sotheby Hong Kong, 1994, at a price of HK241,500. A new record for a modern inside painted snuff bottle.


Learning Inside Painting

Wang XiSan was recuited into the Beijing Institute of Arts and crafts, where Beijing’s top arts and crafts talents of that time were brought together. Some of the top artisans at that time were people such as Pan BingHeng (潘秉衡), the best jade carver. Yang Shih-hui (杨士惠) and Yang Shih-chung (杨士忠), who specializes in ivory carving. Bi ShangBing (毕尚宾), Zhai DeShou (翟德寿) and Zhang GuangHe (张广和) in embellishing, Chen ZhiGuang (陈智光) in porcelain engraving art. Lang ShaoAn – the noodle man (郎绍安) in the dough carving, Xia WenFu (夏文富) in the velvet bird embroidery. Gao CongLi (高从理) in the wood carving. Lu JingDa (路景达), the shadow opera master and many more.

The Institute had a library full of books on Chinese art and craft together with a metal workshop for apprentices to learn useful machining skill. At that time, the Beijing Institute of Arts and Crafts was the best learning environment for a young art-beginner. An apprentice there not only had the chance to see the superb works of art every day, but also learn from established artisans from all trades. The valuable experiences in the institute had a far-reaching influence on Master Wang’s career and professionalism as an inside painted snuff bottle artist later.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 在北京市工艺美术研究所合影,
Students of Beijing Institute of Arts and crafts, Master Wang is the 4th from the left from the 2nd last row



Wang First Studio

In 1961 Institute of Arts and crafts moved to a village named Taibei Zhuang (太平庄). TaiPing Zhuang in Chinese literally means “Peaceful Village” and that was exactly what Master Wang hoped to be; A peaceful place for him to perfect his mastery in inside painting. Mater Wang used to sign off his art pieces as “Wang Xisan, made in the capital”, from then, he adopts his first studio name and sign off on his bottle as “Wang Xisan, Painted in TaiPing Zhuang.”


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 在北京市工艺美术研究所合影,
Students of the Beijing Institute of Arts and crafts. Master Ye BengQi is the 4th from the left of the last row, beside him on the left is Master Wang


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 落款改为“王习三作于太平庄”之作
Wang XiSan Inside Painted Snuff Bottle during the time when he was at TaiPing Zhuang.



Cultural Revolution

Unfortunately for Master Wang, Taiping Zhuang did not remain peaceful for him. Wang XiSan was identified as “anti-revolution” at the very beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. He was deported to the rural area in HeBei Provence (河北省) in FuCheng (阜城) County to undergo reform. The dream of ” TaiPing Zhuang “quickly vanished into thin air.


冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 - 1961年,在北京工艺美术研究所跟随师傅学徒
Wang XiSan at the Beijing Institute of Arts and crafts, 1961.



冀派內畫泰斗鼻煙壺內畫大師王習三 -


Video on Zhang Da Yong Inside Painted Snuff Bottle 青蘭山房治潁珍藏張大勇内画鼻烟壶

I have made a video on Master Zhang Yong inside painted snuff bottle

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A Sunny Afternoon with Beer and Snuff Bottles

A Sunny Afternoon with Beer and Snuff Bottles

Take a carefree, sunny afternoon in Singapore, add a couple of beers plus 40-50 inside painted snuff bottles from the old master like Ye ZhongSan to modern master like Zhang Yong and Lee RuChen. You will get a fantastic art appreciation afternoon that every art lover will remember.

Recently, that’s an afternoon I spend with J.R. and his friend Prisca. They are holidaying in Singapore and decided to meet up to see my snuff bottles. Snuff bottles are a microcosm of all the arts of China, its jewel-like quality: small, beautiful, intricate and ease to handle makes them a unique artifact that you can hold in your palm to enjoy and appreciate.

For the meeting, I brought along master pieces from Ye ZhongSan, Wang XiSan, Chen RunPu, ZhangYong and Lee RuChen. We lined up the bottles according to the year that they are painted and admired the progression of different painting techniques, from bamboo tip brush to modern painting tools, used by masters of different era. It was definitely a feast for the eyes !

Prisca is a creative ceramic artist from Indonesia and she shared a couple of her beautiful creation with different modern glazing and firing methods and techniques.

At the end of the day, we enjoy ourselves talking over art and our collections of snuff bottles. J.R. also walk away happily with some great snuff bottles at an unbeatable price………

J.R. Hope that you will always enjoy those beautiful bottles that you brought home! THANKS for the Afternoon!



It was a pleasure to meet you and spending time together regarding the snuff bottles.  Your collection you shared was very nice indeed!

I look forward to getting the narrative for each bottle, when you get an opportunity.  It was an unexpected surprise to get the calligraphy bottle!  I forgot to ask what style of script it was?

I’m truly thrilled with all the bottles!  Additionally, thank you for the presentation boards and individual boxes.




Master Hong Yi – 弘一大师






The opportunity to design and paint a set of inner painted bottles on Master Hong Yi life strories 弘一大师 came from a bottle that I had sold previously, a bottle that depicted the sorrowness of Tang Dynasty last emperor, Emperor Li Yi, after he has lost the country. Initially, I was nervous about the assignment, this is because I have little knowledge on Master Hong Yi. The only thing that I know about Master Hong Yi is his famous tune: farewell (送别) and a well-known photography of him that show his melancholy and yet benevolent smile.

I took great effort and time to prepare myself for the assignment. I repeatedly watched and studied all the movies, books and articles that I could find on Master Hong Yi. It took me more than 6 months of preparation before  I feel that I have gathered and understand enough of the Master life journey to start designing and painting the bottles. Master Hong Yi life was filled with extraordinary experiences: His early days are characterized by his talents in many artistic area like music, western oil painting, theatre and drama, Chinese calligraphy and seal carving. Yet, when Master Hong Yi decided to become a monk and practice Buddhism, he became one of the most respected abbot that had brought Buddhism to another height in his era. The only artistic pursue that Master Hong Yi never let go even when he became a monk is his love of calligraphy. Master Hong Yi’s calligraphy is always recognized as one of the best in Chinese history because of the simplicity and calmness that it portray. Looking at his calligraphic work, the audiences can experience the Zen, simplicity, peaceful yet powerful inner strength of Master Hong Yi achieved through Buddhism.


For the first painting for Master Hong Yi’s life, I drew inspiration from the Diamond Sutra characteristic verse: 如梦如幻, meaning life is an illusion and revelry. The Diamond Sutra is Master Hong Yi’s most familiar sutra since young. As a child, Master Hong Yi has already had the ability to decipher the teaching of Buddha much more profoundly compared to most people.  Through his life journey on calligraphy, Master Hong Yi has always include this four words, 如梦如幻, as part of his work. I believed that the Master must had a more profound understanding of these phrase and words compared to a normal person like me…… as I tried to understand the true meaning of these words with my limited knowledge on the Sutra as a commoner.


For the second side of the first bottle, I choose the handsome and multi-talented image of Li ShuTong as the subject. Li ShuTong is the name of Master HongYi before he became a monk. At his teen, Li ShuTong was already a well-known name in poetry, calligraphy and seal carving. Li ShuTong is also a member of the 5 talented friends who called themselves the “Friends of the Worlds’ End”. They performed in numerous Chinese opera and the drama houses in various theatre in ShangHai. Li Shutong talent and interest in art is the driving force for him to further his studies in Japan. Upon his return to China, he became the first person to include nude painting classes in schools and colleges in China. He is also instrumental in introducing western classical music, drama and plays into China.


The next bottle started with the love story of Li ShuTong when he was studying in Japan. I thought that his romance with the Japanese lady that eventually became his wife is a chapter that cannot be ignored in his eventful life. One the other side of the bottle, I draw Li ShuTong with his piano and a backdrop of a class of Chinese students painting with a male nude model. Li ShuTong was instrumental in introducing Western music and Art into China. He is the first to start nude painting as an art class curriculum in famous college and school in HangZhou and Nanking. Although using only male nude model, the act of painting nude in China at that time became a sensation in the art circle in the country. Li ShuTong tutored a few famous artist and musician of that era, the most famous being the cartoonist Feng ZhiKai and musician Liu ZePing. The famous cartoon series 护生画集, was initially a series of drawing by Feng ZhiKai and short novel by then Master HongYi. After Master HongYi deceased, Feng ZhiKai remain committed to carry on drawing and writing as a memoir for his teacher. The final collection was a compilation of 46 years of work from Feng and Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 and is published into 7 books. HuSengHua Zi became an important and representative book that descript the Chinese society in the early to mid of 1990s through Feng’s cartoon drawing and Zen, Buddhism teaching through Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 novel.


The Third bottle started with the scene of Li ShuTong deciding to put everything he had achieved behind to go into monkhood. I painted these page in a dreary mood and showing his crying Japanese wife at the backdrop when she found him in the monastery in HangZhou. Li’s wife begged him to go home with her and when all her effort seems fruitless, she asked him the last question…… “What is Love?”Li ShuTong answered her that “Love is benevolence.” With that said, Li ShuTong never turn back and became Master Hong Yi 弘一大师. He whole heartedly put all his effort into the study and research of the most difficult and strictest sect and teaching of Buddhism. Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 travelled around the country to teach in various monastery and became one of the four most famous monk in the Republican time.


The most familiar and famous portrait of Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 must definitely be represented in this series of bottle. This page is also titled 悲欣交集 (a labyrinth of gladness and melancholies), which is the last four word that is written by the Master before he passed away peacefully in the monastery.  Lastly, I used Li ShuTong most famous song and verse 送别 (farewell) as the theme of the last painting of this series of bottles. The lyric and the painting of two parting friends under the setting sun gave me a fulfilling ending to the different types of emotion and feeling as I walked through this experiences of creating this series of bottle. The titles of all the painting are also carefully selected from various words and phrases that was used by Li ShuTong or Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 through his lifetime. I am sure that for those people that are familiar with the life of Master Hong Yi 弘一大师, these simple verse will bring back meaningful, happy and fulfilling memories of him.


I know that my effort will never be adequate to represent even one tenth of Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 life time achievement. But I am grateful that I am given this opportunity to embark onto researching, studying, designing and finally painting this series of bottles on Master Hong Yi 弘一大师 life stories. The experience has undoubtedly help myself to learn and better my own artistic level and gradation. It’s a humbling, fulfilling and beneficial journey.


Lu JunHua

Transformation of the Stone

When an agate bottle reaches the hand of a snuff bottle inside painter, it might had already went through a series of transformation. From its raw state, the lapidaries must be able to foresee the hidden treasure within the stone. He will use his expertise to transform the raw material into a snuff bottle with unique attributes. A cut at a wrong angle might just destroy the beauty of the stone forever. “You will need to talk to the Stone”, they will tell you.

Let us now take a look at the transformation of a “Jade Belt” Agate bottle in the hand of Master Zhang Yong (張勇). A inside painter based in HengSui.



These are the pictures showing the natural beauty of the “Jade Belt” Agate bottle before painting. The deep orange semi-circular patch looks a beautiful sunrise or sunset scene before any enhancement. The “jade belt” and the white misty inclusion looks like clouds or mist over a mountain range.


In the hands of an inside painter, the second stage of transformation begins.

First, Master Zhang Yong conceptualized the overall theme for the bottle. He saw the possibility of painting his favor patriotic General – Yue Fei (岳飞). He also plan to include some calligraphy works into the bottle. This bottle is a perfect canvas for such a painting with its original sunset like scenery and wide surface to execute the calligraphy works.

Master Zhang then began to prepare the background colors for his subject. He enhanced the coloration around the semi-circular inclusion to depict a sunset scene. He then worked on the foreground and painted a hill covered with shrubs and vegetation. The valley was also given a faint coat of red that conveyed the beautiful, yet lonely sunset seen by the General at the frontline.



The other side of the bottle was treated with the same procedure. This time, a scenery of a cold morning with the sun just raising above the horizon was the main subject.


Finally, the lonely General on his horse back, carrying his formidable spear was drawn facing the setting sun. On the other side of the bottle, the silhouette of Yue Fei leading his army at sunrise was drawn. Master Zhang also displayed his calligraphy skill on both side of the bottle. The side of the lone hero had his most famous poetry “The River of Red” (满江红) written across. The other side of the bottle has another poetry by the general “The mountains in front” ( 小重山) span across the width of the bottle.



Master Zhang Yong cleverly integrated the beautiful natural features within the agate bottle into the composition of his painting. The orange semi-circle became the setting sun. The “Jade Belt” was integrated to be the clouds between the General and the setting sun and the cold morning mist on the other side of the bottle. The overall drawing is harmonious and pleasing, displaying the beauty of Mother Nature alongside with the unique art form of Chinese’s inside painting and calligraphy.

Zhang Yong
Yue Fei Inside Painted Bottle by Zhang Yong




RuChen World Record Calligraphy Bottle

2 World Records Inner Painted Calligraphy Bottles by Li RuChen  – The Smallest Bottle and The Bottle with the Most Number of Hand-Written Words.

RuChen Calligraphy Bottle
RuChen Calligraphy Bottle


Take a closer look! This miniature snuff bottle is standing on an adult’s finger! Inside this bottle, there is a poem that is written in a reversed way; by a tiny paint brush, through the small little opening of the bottle and onto the inside wall of the bottle.

The poem is composed by a Song dynasty poet Shao Yong (邵雍),





RuChen Calligraphy Bottle
RuChen Calligraphy Bottle


Which can be translated as:

I once (1) wondered off into this scenic countryside and before I realized, I have walked down the path for 2-3 miles. I can barely see the village ahead through the mist, there were probably 4-5 houses in there. I can also see 6-7 pavilion in the distance decorated by 8, 9 or maybe 10 branches of flower alongside.


On Christmas Day,2015, this bottle was certified by the World Record Association to be the smallest reversed or inner painted calligraphy bottle. This bottle measured only about 10mm in height and 5mm in width!


The artist behind this amazing work is Master Li RuChen (李如琛) – a 34 years old female artist in inner painting from HengSui City, China’s capital city of the Inner Painting Art.

In a short span of about a month time, Master Li RuChen again broke the world record in inner painted calligraphy bottle. This time, she managed to write the full text of LaoZi Dao De Ching, a staggering 5806 Chinese characters, into a bottle that is just as big as an adult’s palm. The bottle measured 145mm in height, 87mm in width, with a mouth opening of about 10mm in diameter. Each Chinese character in the bottle is so tiny that it’s barely readable with a naked eye. No one in history has ever come close to writing so many words in a single bottle.


RuChen Calligraphy Bottle
Dao De Jing – Lao Zi




RuChen is also well versed in landscape, floral, animal, birds and figurine inner painting. Her works are always extremely detailed and carefully drawn out.





Li RuChen came from a poor family, her father worked extremely hard in a local chemical company to provide her and her brother the opportunity to attend school. Master RuChen’s childhood dream is to become a teacher in her hometown of Heng Shui. Unfortunately, the year when she finished her secondary school, there was no intake for teachers. With her dream broken and no other better choice to consider, RuChen enrolled into the Heng Sui art school as an apprentice.


In the same year, RuChen’s father lost his job and in order to make end meets, he took up a helper job in the kitchen of one of Master Wang XiSan’s art school. This is where RuChen get to know about inner painting. Subsequently, RuChen enrolled into Wang Xi San’s school of inner painting and started her journey as an inner painting artist. RuChen married in 2004 and with her earning as an apprentice artist, life was simple but happy. However, in 2005 her father was diagnosed with leukemia and pass on after a year. The passing of her father is extremely sad for Master Li as she had always enjoy the company of her father.

RuChen’s father is an art lover and spend his free time drawing and practicing calligraphy. His love of art has profound influence to Master Li and her brother since young. RuChen still remember the time when she and her father will spend time painting the beautiful landscape of their home town together. Master Li also practices Chinese calligraphy since young and has been given numerous awards from various calligraphy competition.

LiFather2 LiFather1

RuChen’s talent is discovered very early in Wang Xi San art school. She was quickly identified as one of the potential artist that can make it to the top and was personally coach by Wang Xi San himself. True enough, with her hard work and careful coaching by the top artists, RuChen gradually became one of the top inner painting calligrapher and her works became very sort after by serious snuff bottle collectors.




RuChen effort and talent has been confirmed and rewarded by the high prices that her bottle can fetch in recent auctions. Her work has fetch RMB70,000 in a recent auction in ShangHai. This put her works in a price range of many matured and well known inner painters.

Calligraphy2 Calligraphy4  Calligraphy3


RuChen is already a mother of two. It is always a challenge between spend enough time with her family and concentrating on her masterpieces. Luckily, her husband is very supportive of her work and helps her with a lot of household chores. When ask about her family. RuChen’s usual reply will be “I am very lucky to have a supportive husband, and I do miss the time with my children!”

Calligraphy7 Calligraphy6


Translated from an article published by Yi Ju Art




Two stations beyond Dresden an elderly gentleman entered our compartment, greeted the passengers courteously, sat down opposite me, and nodded to me as if I were an old acquaintance. I did not recognize him at first, but when he mentioned his name with a half-smile I at once recalled him as one of the best-known art-dealers and antiquarians in Berlin, from whom in the days before the war I often bought old books and autographs. We spoke of indifferent matters, until he interrupted the train of conversation to say: ‘I must tell you how I happen to be here. I have just had the rarest adventure that ever befell an old art peddler like me — the strangest in my thirty-seven years of business.’ This trip is one of those impromptu, new-fashioned business jaunts that are among the few pleasant things this unhappy inflation craze has brought us home-keeping antiquarians. From Vossische Zeitung (Berlin Liberal daily), May 31 probably you don’t know what art dealing is like since the value of money has been vanishing like a flash. The newly rich have just discovered that their hearts are yearning for Gothic Madonas and incunabula and old embroideries and pictures. You can’t get enough to supply them. I have to fight desperately to keep them from buying me out of house and home — from taking the cuff-links out of my shirt and the lamp off my desk. At the same time we are having a harder and harder time to get any goods to sell. Pardon the word ‘goods’; I know it jars upon a man like you, but these fellows use it so much that I have picked it up in spite of myself. In fact, I have come to regard a marvelous Venetian original edition much as I should an overcoat that cost so many dollars, and a sketch by Cuercino as merely the incarnation of a bank note for a few thousand francs.

In casting about for something to sell, it occurred to me to look through my old ledgers and letter books, to see if there were not people among our old customers who would be glad to raise money on some of the things they bought from me in their better years before the war. Such an old customers’ list is a sort of mortuary record to-day, and I did not find many addresses that I could use. Most of my former clients had long since auctioned off all they owned or were dead, and I had nothing to hope for from the few who remained. Just as I was about to give up in despair, I chanced upon a whole file of letters from a gentleman who was perhaps my oldest customer, but whose name had slipped my mind because I had not heard from him since before the war. This correspondence was a remarkable one. It went back almost sixty years. The writer had bought from my father and my grandfather. Yet I could not recall haying seen him in my shop during the thirty-seven years since it was mine. Everything seemed to show that he was one of those odd, old-fashioned eccentrics such as survived here and there in our provincial towns until quite recently. His letters were written like copperplate. Each item in his order was underlined with a ruler and red ink. He always repeated figures twice, so that there might be no mistake. These peculiarities, as well as the fact that he wrote his

notes on torn-out flyleaves and enclosed them in miscellaneous envelopes that he had picked up here and there, stamped him as a punctilious penny-saving provincial. After his signature he always signed in full ‘Provincial Forester and Farm Steward, Retired; Lieutenant, Retired; Holder of the Iron Cross First-class.’ Since he must be a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War, he could not be under his middle eighties, if he were still alive. Nevertheless, this ridiculous, cheeseparing miser showed remarkable shrewdness, knowledge, and taste as a collector of old prints and engravings. When I listed his orders for almost sixty years, beginning with those amounting to a few silver pennies, I discovered that this little provincial had quietly got together, in the days when a dollar would buy a stack of the finest German woodcuts, a collection of etchings and engravings easily out rivaling many of the widely advertised collections of the newly rich. Merely those that he had bought from us during a half-century, for a mark or a few pfennigs apiece, were now of untold value; and I had every reason to assume that he had also purchased at auctions and from other dealers. Since 1914 we had not received a single order from him; but I was familiar enough with what was going on in the art trade to feel sure that such a collection had never been dispersed either by auction or by private sale. I therefore concluded that this remarkable man must still be alive, or else that his collection remained in the hands of his heirs.

The case so interested me that I left the following day — that is, yesterday evening — directly for his place of residence, one of the scrubbiest little provincial towns in Saxony. When I got off the train at the tiny station and walked up through the principal street it seemed to me utterly incredible that anyone living in its banal little gimcrack cottages, with their chromos and impossible factory-furniture, could possibly own some of the finest of Rembrandt’s etchings and Durer’s engravings, and a complete collection of Mantegnas. In fact it was with a feeling of surprise that I learned at the post office that a Provincial Forester and Farm Steward of the name of my former correspondent was still alive and actually residing in the town. You can well imagine that I sought his lodgings with a violently beating heart. They were not difficult to find. He lived in the second story of one of those plain, cheaply constructed small town tenements that speculative jerrybuilders used to put up back in the sixties of the last century. An honest merchant-tailor occupied the first floor; the card of a post-office employee was on the left-hand side in the second story, and on the right side was a white porcelain plate with the name and titles of the Provincial Forester and Farm Steward. A very old white-haired lady wearing a tidy black cap immediately answered my hesitating knock. I handed her my card and asked if I might see the Herr’ Forstrat. She gazed at me and then at the card with a look of surprise mingled with a certain distrust. Apparently a visit was something of an event in this old-fashioned house and out-of-way corner of the world. But she asked me in a gentle voice to wait, took the card, and went into a room. I first heard a light whispering and then suddenly a stentorian masculine voice saying: ‘Ah, Herr E, from Berlin, the great antiquarian. Let him come in, let him come in. I’m delighted to meet him.’

Immediately the little old grandmother trotted out and invited me to enter. I took off my hat and did so. In the middle of the modest room stood a tall, aged, but still vigorous man, with a bushy mustache, wearing a half military, fogged smoking-jacket, who cordially held out both hands toward me. But in spite of this friendly gesture, and his obviously spontaneous and sincere cordiality, he made no move to meet me. I had to advance, slightly embarrassed, to grasp his hand. As I did so I observed that he held them motionless in front of him, without attempting to clasp mine. The next moment I understood. The old gentleman was blind. Ever since I was a child I have felt uncomfortable in the presence of blind people. I have always had a vague embarrassed feeling that in some way I had an unfair advantage over them. I was keenly conscious of this sensation as I glanced up at the old gentleman’s eyes, which stared straight ahead of him under his bushy white brows. But he did not allow me to think of this more than an instant. As soon as my hand touched his he shook it heartily, and exclaimed, laughing with almost boisterous delight: ‘A rare visit! A miracle! That a big gentleman like you from Berlin should drop into our little nest. . . . But a man has to look out when one of you big experts is on his trail. We have a saying here: “Lock your doors and look to your pockets when the gypsies come.” Yes, sir! Yes, sir! I can guess already what brought you. Business is bad now in our poor, distressed Germany. Nobody wants to buy anything, so you big gentlemen are out canvassing your old customers. But I am afraid you won’t have much luck with me. We old pensioners are thankful to have a crust of bread to eat. We can’t go on collecting at the present crazy prices. We’re out of the game.’ I told him at once that he was mistaken.

I had not come to sell him anything. I merely happened to be in the neighborhood and seized the opportunity to drop in and pay my respects to an old client of our firm and one of the greatest collectors in Germany. When I said ‘one of the greatest collectors in Germany’ a pleased expression flashed over the old man’s face. He still stood stiff and erect in the middle of the room, but his posture instantly betrayed his pride and gratification. He turned to the spot where he thought his wife was as if to say: ‘Do you hear that?’ Then with a voice trembling with pleasure, and dropping the brusque military tone he had previously used, he said softly, almost tenderly: ‘ That is really very, very kind of you. But you must not have made your visit here in vain. You shall see something that you won’t see every day, even in Berlin, a couple of pieces that cannot be rivaled in the Albertina or in Paris, God curse her! Yes, sir, when a man has collected for sixty years, things fall into his hands that you do not pick up anywhere in the street. Louise, just give me the key to the cupboard.’ Thereupon something strange happened. The little old lady, who was standing by his side and listening to our conversation with a sympathetic smile, suddenly raised both hands toward me with an imploring gesture. I didn’t understand for a moment. Then, turning to her husband and laying both hands lightly on his shoulders, she said: ‘But, Herwarth, you haven’t asked the gentleman whether he has time to look at your collection. It is almost dinnertime. After dinner you

must rest an hour. The physician insists on that. Isn’t it better to show the gentleman all these things after dinner and have him take a cup of coffee with us? At that time Anna Marie will be here. She understands it all so much better and can help you.’ The moment she finished speaking she turned to me and repeated the same imploring gesture, which I now understood. I saw that she wanted me to refuse to look at his things just then, and so I invented an urgent dinner engagement. It would be a great pleasure and an honor to look over his collection, but I could hardly do so before three o’clock that afternoon. I should be happy to call again at that hour if he would permit me. The old man turned around impatiently, angry as a child deprived of his favorite plaything. ‘Of course,’ he growled, ‘you Berlin gentlemen never have time. But to-day you must take time, for you are not looking at three or four pieces. I have twenty seven portfolios, each one for a different artist, and everyone is more than half full. Make it three o’clock then, but come promptly or we shall not finish.’ The little old lady accompanied me to the door. I had noticed that she seemed worried and uncomfortable. As she opened the door she said abruptly in a low voice: ‘Would you — would you mind speaking to my daughter Anna Marie before you come? It is better in many ways. Of course you dine at the hotel?’ ‘Certainly, I shall be very happy to do so,’ I said. And in fact an hour later, just as I stepped into the little parlor of the hotel on the market place after a midday dinner, an elderly spinster very plainly clad entered the room, apparently looking for somebody. I stepped up to her at once, introduced myself, and said I should be happy to go with her to see the collection. She blushed violently and, with the same confused embarrassment that her mother had shown, begged to say a few words to me first. I could see that she was in great distress.

The moment she began to speak her face turned red and her fingers played nervously with a button on her coat. Finally she stammered: ‘My mother has sent me to you. She has told me the whole story. We have a great favor to ask. We want to tell you before you come to father. Father naturally will show you his collection, and the collection — the collection — is no longer complete. A number of pieces, quite a number, are lacking.’ She had to stop for breath. Then, looking up suddenly straight into my eyes, she continued with an effort: I must tell you the whole thing. You know the times. You will understand. Father became completely blind after the war. Even before that he could not see very well, and the excitement of the war — well, it destroyed his sight completely. In spite of his seventy years, he was determined to go to France. And as soon as he saw that the army was not getting forward as it did in 1870 he was so agitated that his eyes failed him rapidly. In other respects he was still vigorous. Until this happened, he could make long trips — yes, even go hunting. Now he cannot take walks and his only pleasure is his collection. He looks at it every day. That is, of course he doesn’t see it, he doesn’t see anything, but he takes out his portfolios every afternoon so that he can feel the pieces one after another. He knows them by heart. Nothing else interests him; and I have to read all the auction notices in the newspapers to him. The higher the prices go the happier he is,

for that is the worst of it — father no longer understands what prices mean in these days. He doesn’t know that we have lost everything and that his pension would not support us two days of the month. Besides that, my sister’s husband fell in the war and left her with four little children. But father knows nothing of our money cares. First we economized, economized more than ever, but that didn’t do. Then we began to sell things. Naturally we didn’t touch his beloved collection. We sold what jewelry we had. That was not much, for father had spent every penny that he could scrape together for sixty years on his drawings and engravings. One day we had nothing left. We didn’t know what to do, and then mother and I sold one piece. Father would not have allowed it; he didn’t know what a pinch we were in. He had no idea how hard it was to get a bit of food. He doesn’t know yet that we lost the war and have had to give up Alsace-Lorraine. We don’t read such things to him in the newspapers. ‘The first piece we sold was a very valuable one, a Rembrandt.

The dealer offered us many, many thousand marks, and we hoped they would support us for a year. But you know how money melts away. We put the entire sum in a bank and in two months it was gone. After that we had to sell another piece, and still another. And the dealer always sent the money so late that it was not worth much’ when we got it. Then we tried to sell at auction, and we were cheated there in spite of the millions we received. By the time the millions reached us they were already worthless. So gradually the best things in his collection, except a very few, have gone, and we have received for them barely enough to exist on. Father does not know a thing about it. ‘That is why my mother was so frightened when you came. He would have discovered the whole thing, for we have put blank sheets of paper of the same size and practically the same thickness in place of each piece we took out, so he doesn’t notice it when he handles them. He gets the same pleasure from handling them that he formerly got from looking at the originals. There is nobody here in our little village that father ever thought worthy of seeing them. He loves every piece with a fanatical love, and it would break his heart if he knew one of them had been sold. You are the first man during all these years — since the old Director of the Dresden Print Department died, who used to visit us often — to whom he has offered to show his treasures. ‘So I beg you’ the poor woman hesitated and raised her hands toward me with tear-dimmed eyes. ‘I beg you, don’t destroy his happiness. Don’t destroy our happiness. Don’t spoil his last illusion. Help us to make him believe that all the pieces that he thinks he is showing you are really there. He would not survive the shock if he knew the truth. We may have done wrong, but we could not do otherwise. People must live and well, four fatherless children like my sisters are more important than any prints. And so far he is very happy. He spends three hours each afternoon fingering over his portfolios, talking to the pieces in his collection as if they were human beings. And to-day I think will be the happiest of all. He has been waiting for years to show his pets to someone who could appreciate them as he does. I beg you, do not rob him of that joy.’ She said all this with an agitation, with a depth of emotion that I cannot convey to you

here. I have seen many a shady deal in my business. I have seen many a man swindled most scurvily during the present inflation, and valuable estates go for a crust of bread. But this was a case that for some reason went straight to my heart. Of course I promised her not to say a word, and to do my best to carry out the deception. So we went back to her house together. On the way I learned with a shock for what miserably inadequate sums these poor ignorant women had sold the old man’s treasures. So I determined to help them the best I could. We went upstairs and had hardly reached the door when I heard the old man’s stentorian voice calling: ‘Come in, come in’ with the keen ear of the blind he must have recognized our footsteps on the stairs.

‘Herwarth could not sleep today, he was so impatient to show you his precious pictures,’ the old lady said, laughing. A glance at her daughter told her everything was all right. A great heap of portfolios lay in order on the table. As soon as the blind man felt my hand he grasped me by the arm and pulled me down into a chair beside him. ‘So now we will begin. We have a great deal to look at, and you gentlemen from Berlin never have much time. The first portfolio is by Master Durer and, as you will soon see for yourself, quite complete. And each one finer than the others! But I must not talk. You will judge with your own eyes. Look, now!’ He opened the first portfolio — ‘The Big Horse.’ With cautious, light-tipped fingers he drew forth, as tenderly as if he were handling the most delicate piece of porcelain, a yellow, blank sheet of paper, and held it up for me to see. As he fixed his sightless eyes upon it, holding it out level in front of him, an expression of ecstatic admiration crossed his face. I was almost startled at what seemed to be a glow of recognition in his eyes. ‘Now,’ he said proudly, ‘did you ever see a finer impression? Note how sharp, how clear, every detail is. I have compared this copy with the one in Dresden and the latter looks flat and heavy beside it. And its pedigree! Look there!’ He turned the sheet over and pointed with his finger nail to a place on the back of the blank paper. He did it so convincingly that I involuntarily leaned forward to see. ‘There you have the stamp of the Nagler Collection. Here that of Remy and Esdaille. They never thought, those great predecessors of mine that this sheet would ever get here in my little room.’ A cold shudder ran down my back as I watched the unconscious old man’s rapture over this meaningless scrap of paper. There was something spectral and weird in the certainty with which his finger nail traced what he saw only in his imagination. ‘Unrivaled!’ I finally managed to stammer. ‘A magnificent copy!’ His face glowed with pride. ‘But that’s nothing,’ he said triumphantly. ‘You must first see the “Melancholy” or the “Passion” a colored print. I doubt if it has an equal. Look, now.’ Again his fingers tenderly drew out an imaginary print. ‘Just observe the fresh, lifelike, warm tone. There’s something to make Berlin and its dealers and museum professors sit up and take notice.’ And it went on like this, in a peen of triumph, for two whole hours. I cannot describe what an uncanny feeling it gave me to gaze at these hundred or two hundred pieces of blank paper, to realize what they represented to that old man, and to watch the tragic, unsuspecting assurance with which he pointed out, with infallible certainty as to every

minutest detail, the beauties and merits of each piece. Indeed, it was so real to him that I almost caught his own illusion. Only once did we come close to the verge of a rude awakening. He was showing me what he supposed was a Rembrandt ‘Antiope’, a trial proof that must have been of inestimable value — and as he dilated on the sharpness of the print, and passed his nervous, sensitive fingers over it, he missed some light, familiar indentation. A shadow flashed across his face and his voice trembled hesitatingly as he said, with an interrogatory accent: ‘It’s, it’s that’s the “Antiope”?’ But I hurriedly took the piece from his hand and proceeded to describe with well feigned enthusiasm a dozen familiar points in the actual etching. His puzzled expression instantly vanished. The more I praised the more radiant he grew, until at last he burst out triumphantly to his wife and daughter: ‘Here’s a man who knows what these things are worth. You have always grumbled and complained because I put my money into this collection. It is true, for sixty years no beer, no wine, no tobacco, no traveling, no theaters, no books, just saving and saving for these “pictures.” But when I am dead and gone you see, you will be rich — richer than anyone in town, as rich as the richest folks in Dresden.

Then you can live as you want to, and have a good time; but as long as I’m alive not a thing here shall leave the house. I shall be carried out first. After me my collection.’ As he spoke he placed his hand tenderly over his portfolios as if they were something alive, with a touching, and under the circumstances a tragic gesture. Since the outbreak of the war I had not seen an expression of such absolute happiness on the face of a German. His wife stood beside him, watching his pleasure with tear dimmed eyes. But the old man could not have enough of my praise and appreciation. He kept turning the portfolios over again and again, drinking in every word I had to say. I felt relieved of a weight of responsibility when the deceptive portfolios were at length laid to one side and the coffee placed on the table. Thereupon the old man began to tell me a thousand anecdotes of his purchases. At each good story he would fumble for his portfolios, refusing any assistance, in order to show me once more the particular print in question. When I finally said that I must go he was tremendously put out, as vexed as a naughty child threatened with a whipping. He stamped his feet impatiently and insisted that I had not seen half of what he had. It was with great difficulty that the two ladies could persuade him that he must not keep me longer, or else I should lose my train. When finally he was reconciled to my going and we said good-bye, his voice suddenly softened to gentleness again. Taking both my hands, he ran his fingers caressingly over them and up my arms with a blind man’s eagerness to learn what I was like, and at the same time as if to express affection. ‘You have given me a very great pleasure by your visit,’ he began with a little quaver in his voice. ‘It has been a real joy to me — at last, at last, at last to be able to show my collection to a man who appreciates it. And you shall see that you have not come in vain to visit an old blind man. I promise you here, with my wife as a witness, that I shall put a clause in my will commissioning your old reliable firm to auction my collection.’ As he said this the old man laid his hand again caressingly upon his pillaged portfolios. ‘Only

promise me that they shall have a handsome catalogue. That will be my monument. I do not want any better.’ I looked at his wife and daughter, who were standing side by side, trembling with their common emotion. The solemnity of the occasion impressed us all, as this unsuspecting old gentleman, with such a touching display of feeling, made a last disposition of his dearest treasure. The ladies accompanied me to the door. They did not venture to speak, because his sharp ears would have caught every word. But tears were flowing down their cheeks. As I stumbled down the stairs, half dazed by it all; I somehow felt ashamed of my profession. Here I had come, a bargain hunting dealer, hoping to buy cheaply a few valuable prints. But the memory that I took away with me was something infinitely better than those would have been — I had seen once more the light of pure, unalloyed delight and joy in this gloomy, joyless age. As I reached the street I heard the sound of a window opening above and my name called. The old man had insisted on looking out in the direction he assumed I was going, although he could see nothing with his blind eyes. He leaned out so far that the women had to hold him, and waving his pocket handkerchief he shouted after me ‘A pleasant journey!’ with the merry, happy voice of a boy. I shall never forget the sight of the white-haired old gentleman’s happy face in the window, high above the hastening, harried, careworn crowd below.

And I thought how true the old saying is, I believe it is Goethe’s, ‘Collectors are happy creatures.’

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