Jun 06, 2012

Hengshui Inner Paintings refer to the artwork of painting inside snuff bottles around Hengshui city and its surrounding areas in Hebei province. As a result of its superlative craftsmanship, neihua painting has been praised as an incredible craftsmanship for its expressive picture within only a square inch of areas. 


The art of neihua painting in snuff bottles first appeared in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In 1696, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, the first state glass factory was set up to produce snuff bottles, which were presented to the royal members, senior officials, and foreign ambassadors. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong, in addition to glass and porcelain, other materials such as ivory, amber, coral, agate, crystal and bamboo roots were also used for making snuff bottles. In the Jiaqing Period of the late Qing Dynasty, Peking neihua paintings appeared with its unique styles and further developed during the Xianfeng Period. The paintings are made using such techniques as writing, drawing, cutting-out, carving, engraving, heating, welding, chiseling, grinding, mounting, embedding, casting, pasting, painting, and mould pressing.


During the late Qing Dynasty, a number of neihua painting masters emerged in Peking. Among them, Ma Shaoxuan, Sun Xingwu, and Ye Zhongsan and his three sons are particularly good at painting human figures, while Zhou Leyuan, Ding Erzhong and Zi Yizi are skilled in depicting landscapes, flowers and birds. Hengshui's snuff bottle neihua painting belongs to the Ji (the short for Hebei Province) School, which has its origin partly in the Jing School (Peking neihua painting). Wang Xisan, the founder of the Ji School, had apprenticed himself to Ye Xiaofeng and Ye Fengqi, the third and fourth sons of Ye Zhongsan, a famous snuff bottle master handicraftsman. In the 1950s, on the basis of the Ye's handicraft arts and widely assimilating other craftsmen's merits, Wang Xisan applied the meticulous brush-tearing technique of traditional Chinese painting to snuff bottle neihua painting. He also invented a paintbrush unique to the Ji School, namely Xisan Hook Brush. The direction of the brush can be changed easily by turning the hook.


Hengshui Inner Paintings integrates many techniques of traditional Chinese painting, such as chapping, scraping, dying, touching, delineating and tearing. In 1981, masters of Ji School tried using oil colors to create neihua paintings and through trial and error, they successfully used oil colors as an alternative to water colors, making the first of its kind by blending the eastern and western skills. The exquisite and elaborate interior paintings, with profound meanings, careful compositions, varied drawing skills, coordinated colors, and setting-off calligraphy, are simple and elegant, treasured by all.

Hengshui Inner Painting is a remarkable representative of its kind in China. This interior painting field never lacks talents, and the works of the dozen top-level masters are both ebullient and poetic. The light-colored human figures demonstrate good texture and distinctive layers. However, currently the Hengshui neihua painting is only practiced and carried out by Wang Xisan and his apprentices. There are no systemic documents recording this unique art. It would be very difficult to preserve this form of art without specific protection measures.

SOURCE : cultural-china.com , PICTURE SOURCE : china.org.cn

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