QING DYNASTY, 18TH CENTURY
23.1 cm high (in total), 11.1 cm high (handle)
The huanghuali brush handle is of typical flared bowl shape with the brush hair tied and inserted into the wide opening. There is a narrow bead to the upper edge. The handle narrows down before spreading to a wide foot with a square shoulder and triple moulding. At its most waisted point there is an incised triple line. The base is very slightly concave with a central indentation where the turning spike was affixed.
Nicholas Grindley, London
Formerly in the John C. Weber Collection, New York
Brushes held a special significance for the Chinese scholar - together with the ink cake, inkstone, and paper, they were considered one of ‘the four treasures of the scholar’s studio’, wenfang sibao 文房四宝. Used both for painting and calligraphy, the two highest forms of artistic expression, the brush was regarded as an extension of the artist’s hand and a piece of art itself. Brushes of this large size were most likely used for writing large characters.
Brush handles could be made of a variety of materials, including hardwood, bamboo, lacquer and porcelain. Wood was a highly preferred material among the literati and was mostly cherished for its rich colour, graining, and lustrous polish - qualities which made it a marker of elegance and simplicity. Huanghuali was considered particularly fine, and was mostly used from the Ming dynasty until the end of the eighteenth century.
Because of their fragility and usage, relatively few brushes have been preserved, hence the rarity of the present brush. A similar large brush, but with a hongmu handle, is in the collection of the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore (accession number 2000-05648). For a further hongmu example see Nicholas Grindley, March 2005, n. 16.
For a further discussion on this subject, see: Jing Pei Fang, Treasures of the Chinese Scholar, New York, 1997; and Robert P. Piccus et al., Wood from the Scholar’s Table: Chinese Hardwood Carvings and Scholar's Articles, Hong Kong, 1984.