Inside painted snuff bottles

Inside Painted Snuff Bottles

Legend has it that in the Qing Dynasty an official stopped and sought rest at a small temple. He took out his crystal snuff bottle to take a sniff and found it was empty. He scraped off some of the powder that was stuck on the inside walls of the bottle using a slender, sharp bamboo stick, thus leaving lines on the inside of the bottle. When he left he left behind his bottle which was found by a young monk. The monk saw that the marks inside the bottle produced a pattern and thus the "inside painted" snuff bottle was born.

The "painting brush" of the snuff bottle artist today is not very different from what the official in the story used. It is a slender bamboo stick, not much thicker, but much longer than a matchstick, with the tip shaped like a fine pointed hook. Dipped in colored ink and thrust inside the bottle, the hooked tip is used to paint on the interior surface of the bottle, following the will of the artist.

Snuff Bottles

It is believed that the founder of modern colorful inside painting was "Gan Huan" whose real name was "Gan Xuanwen". His earliest piece appears to have been painted in 1816. "Gan Huan" along with "Zeng Tianzhi" and "Jiang Zhilin" make up what is commonly referred to as the "Early Period" of inside painted snuff bottles.

Today there are three main studios producing high quality inside painted snuff bottles. These are the "Xisan Art Academy of Inside Painting" located in the city of Hengshui, Hebei province, with "Wang Xisan" as the master artist, the Beijing Studio in Beijing with "Liu Shouben" as the master artist and the Shandong school located in Boshan with "Li Kechang" as the master artist.

In modern times, Liu Shouben, a celebrated master in this field, succeeded in painting all of the 108 heroes and heroines of the classical novel Water Margin, each with his or her characteristic expression, inside a single bottle. Snuff bottles are no more than 6 to 7 cm high and 4 to 5 cm wide with limited internal surface area, making such a feat outstanding.

©Qi Journal