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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 33 

Lot 33

 

Lot 33
Treasury 1, no. 126

An inscribed black and white nephrite ‘scholar and landscape’ snuff bottle

(‘Sun Bing’s Topic of Conversation’)

Nephrite; well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a flat footrim; carved on one side with a scholar in a boat reaching towards a woman holding a small parasol standing on a rocky shore beneath a small pine tree, with two other trees growing from the bank, and on the other side with a pine tree and a towering rock inscribed overall in draft script with a poetic inscription followed by a name divided into two seals, Sun (?) and Bing
Probably Sun (?) Bing, Suzhou, 1760–1840
Height: 7.46 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.7/2.2 cm
Stopper: coral; silver collar with three impressed seals, Beijing, Baoshan (‘Precious Virtue [Establishment]’) and Zuyin (‘100% silver’); with integral collar and spoon

Lot 33 Provenance:
Roland Hartman (circa 1969)
Hugh Moss
The Belfort Collection (1986)

Published:
Moss 1971, p. 71, no. 186
Wills 1972, p. 118, fig. 90
JICSBS, December 1977, p. 21, no. 35
Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty, no. 159
JICSBS, December 1978, p. 34, no. 159
Jutheau 1980, p. 115, fig. 3
Très précieuses tabatières chinoises1982, p. 15
Kleiner 1987, no. 36
Galeries Lafayette 1990, p. 6. no. 6
Kleiner 1995, no. 93
Treasury 1, no. 126

Exhibited:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd., London, 1974
Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–December 1978
L’Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Galeries Lafayette, Paris, April 1990
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
British Museum, June–October 1995

Lot 33 Commentary
This noble and famous snuff bottle is typical of the classic output of the Suzhou school in material, style, and quality of carving. The material is of unusually pale grey colour for the school, but the whiter relief is so well used that the separation allows it the same impressive cameo quality of its darker counterparts within the school. The simple design is very effective, with the two main protagonists separated by a diagonal bank of serrated rocks. We have no idea what the subject refers to specifically, although there seems to be a little courting going on from the coy way the woman is holding her tiny parasol and the eager anticipation on the face of the scholar as he leans hopefully forwards.

The lengthy draft-script inscription that covers the other side of this bottle is typical both of the school and of a sub-group of Suzhou bottles where the main subject is backed by either a plain surface or low-relief carving over which is written a flowing poetic inscription followed by a signature, here in the form of two seals, which is nearly always an art name and otherwise unidentifiable with any known individual. We have ascribed it as ‘probably Sun Bing’ only because it is possible that this is the name of the poet rather than the inscriber, although with Suzhou wares of this group in general this seems unlikely. There is an interesting feature of many of these bottles that suggests that they may be not only stylistically homogeneous in their use of inscriptions in this way, but from the same sort of period and perhaps all by one hand. Combined with the standard relief carving using the different colours of the material to distinguish the main features of the design, simply incised lines are used on the ground plane to indicate either water or clouds. The incised lines are well employed here for water, but in many cases they seem somewhat at odds with the superb quality and careful execution of the rest of the design. Once this phenomenon is recognized, it can be found more subtly used in other wares of the classic group (see, for instance, the reverse of Treasury 1, no. 127, which has similarly incised lines), but perhaps the evolution to its more rudimentary use, where it is not so well integrated into the relief carving, suggests the hint of a decline in the extraordinary commitment obvious on the finest of the classic Suzhou bottles. Maybe these bottles may be more likely to date from the mid-Qing period and perhaps into the early nineteenth century. Our only clue so far to the precise dating of this group of classic black-and-white Suzhou bottles is an extremely rare example dated to 1792 sold at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong (5 May 1994, lot 1496) and now in the Franz Collection. See Franz 2010, pp. 122 – 123 and 273 – 284.

The inscription here appears to be a heptasyllabic quatrain. However, like many of this group, it has proven to be extremely difficult to decipher because of its whimsical nature and the short-hand forms so frequently used in sophisticated draft-script. The translation offered in Treasury 1 was so tentative that it would serve no purpose to repeat it here.

The stopper is unlikely to be the original, unless the bottle was made for a client who then had a stopper added in Beijing, although it is unlikely that a Suzhou workshop making snuff bottles would sell them initially without some sort of stopper on them, however rapidly the owner might wish to change it for one more to his taste. The exterior of the collar is finely chased and was once gilt, but the underside is not gilt and is impressed with a silver mark stating that the silver is pure, a shop mark identifying the maker, about whom we have been unable to find any further information, and the place of manufacture, Beijing. The impressed silver marks are unusually clear, having been protected from wear by their inaccessibility to the hand and the concave lip. Rarely is a bottle, let alone a stopper, so well documented.

 

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