It is likely that Ma Shaoxian, the nephew of Ma Shaoxuan, worked with his uncle producing bottles to be sold with his uncle’s signature. One of the earliest bottles on which Shaoxian used his own signature is dated to 1899. Hugh Moss notes that the he was already an accomplished painter by this point indicating that he must have been working in the family workshops for some time (Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, the Mary and George Bloch Collection, Volume 4, Part 2, p. 490). Shaoxian used his own name sporadically on bottles from at least 1899 until 1932, when his uncle retired. At that point, free to explore his own style and capabilities, Shaoxian used his own signature.
The present bottle, dated 1936, is an accomplished example of Ma Shaoxian’s mature work. The subject of birds perched on a rock with flowers is relatively uncommon for him, and when comparing this bottle to others by the artist in this genre it is clear that this is a superb example of his later style. For two bottles decorated with bird/flower/rock subjects signed by Ma Shaoxian in the Mullin Collection see H. Moss and S. Sargent, This Snuff Bottle Monkey Business, The Mullin Collection and Its Story, Hong Kong, 2012, p. 302, no. 297 for an early 1925 example and p. 303, no. 298 for a 1939 example that is stylistically more similar to the present bottle. Another example from Shaoxian’s bird and rock group was published by B. Stevens in The Collector’s Book of Snuff Bottles, New York, 1976, p. 39, no. 866, and depicts a peacock perched on a rock beneath a pine tree.
When signing his own works he usually employed his assumed name, Ma Shaoxian, although occasionally, on a few of his masterpieces such as this bottle, he signed with both that and his given name, Ma Guoting. Moss notes that Shaoxian used his given name generally on his later works, “and never on anything less than masterly.” (Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, the Mary and George Bloch Collection, Volume 4, Part 2, p. 498).
The first line of the inscription indicates that this bottle belonged to or was presented to Mozhuang. The rest of the text is an unknown poem that describes a twilight scene at the imperial palace.