Ban Shan is the art name (hao) of Gan Xuan, an artist and calligrapher believed to have invented the art of inside snuff bottle painting. Gan Xuan also signed his snuff bottles with Yiru Jushi, Yun Feng and Gu Kaiqiao, initially misleading scholars into believing these were all names of different artists. According to Chinese researchers, Gan Xuan was active from Jiaqing to Xianfeng Period, with his earliest known piece dating to 1816, and his last known piece dating to 1860. British scholarship has set his chronology even earlier, to 1802-1811.
According to the Hong Kong-based researcher Liang Xingzhi, Gan Xuan prepared his rock crystal snuff bottles by filling them with finely ground granite powder and water. He then kept shaking the bottles until the interior surface became rough enough for ink and pigments to adhere to it. He then used a bamboo pen with a bent tip to write and paint inside the bottle, using meticulously controlled strokes.
An early 19th century, rare inside-inscribed rock crystal snuff bottle signed 'Ban Shan' and 'Yun Feng' is offered in our 7 November Fine Asian Works of Art auction in London. The interior of the bottle is inscribed with a four-line poem with the artist's names and seals.
The inscription reads:
Light is reflecting back, literary talent is flowing.
It is full but does not overflow, that is the way of the scholar-gentleman.
If you do not lose the eight methods, you can cross the river with nine bends (the Yellow River).
You can conjure up flowers with bare hands, and turn bushes into magical trees.
For it one would sacrifice his golden official's hat;
Please treasure the liquor from the jade bottle.
It alone is applauded by the guests;
As it fills everyone with joy.