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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 34 

Lot 34

 

Lot 34
Treasury 2, no. 293

An agate ‘Western soldier’ snuff bottle

(‘The Old Soldier Agate’)

Agate; well but slightly irregularly hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed, convex foot surrounded by a protruding, flattish footrim; one side with two layers of different colours carved as a cameo of what is probably intended to be a foreign soldier strolling with a swagger-stick in his right hand
Official School, 1830–1920
Height: 52.8 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.75/1.71 and 1.62 cm (oval)
Stopper: tourmaline; glass collar

Lot 34 Provenance:
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 28 October 1992, lot 412

Published:
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 224
JICSBS, Autumn 1997, p. 9
Treasury 2, no. 293

Exhibited:
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

Lot 34 Commentary
This snuff bottle probably depicts a foreign soldier, as Robert Kleiner has suggested, because of the distinct stripe down each trouser-leg, typical of Western military uniforms of the nineteenth century. The cap also possibly depicts a soldier’s peaked cap. The only element of doubt about this identification is with what appears to be a walking-stick. It is rather short for a walking stick and has no curled end, so it may be intended as a swagger-stick, commonly carried by officers. Another possibility, of course, is that the Chinese carvers involved simply took stereotypical images of foreign barbarians such as a cap, a bottle or beer mug, a walking-stick, or a gun to suggest a foreigner.

Because of the distinctive military and Western appearance of this subject and because of the clever use of two planes of distinctly different colour, this is one of the most striking of the Official School figure subjects. The paler, honey-brown layer lying beneath the darker brown plane has been used to great effect to provide the contrast for trousers and face and a subtle doubling of the outline elsewhere so that the darker silhouette is surrounded by a narrow halo of paler colour. Like so many of these bottles, the design here is entirely contrived, having been cut through the double layer of thin coloured planes.

The hollowing of this bottle is unusually good except for a hint of laziness in the inner shoulders, and some minor irregularities of shape. The carving of the foot, however, is typical of the later group, with a reasonably shallow, convex recession rather irregularly carved and finished.

 

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Hugh Moss |