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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 41 

Lot 41

   

Lot 41
Treasury 2, no. 217
HK$60,000

The Count Blucher Rainbow Hair Crystal

Crystal with inclusions of tourmaline; very well hollowed with a concave lip and flat foot.
 1720–1860
Height: 6.1 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.59/2.02 and 2.01 (slightly oval)
Stopper: stained crystal with integral finial and collar.

Lot 41 Provenance:
Sydney L. Moss Ltd.
Cyril Green
Hugh Moss
Kurt Graf Blucher von Wahlstatt (Count Blucher)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
Heflene Collection (T. E. Gover and V. Meglys)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1985)
Published:
Moss 1971, p. 11, fig. 15
Moss 1971a, p. 83, no. 87
Kleiner 1995, no. 140
Galleries Lafayette 1990, p. 13
Kleiner 1994a, p. 47
Treasury 2, no. 217, and front and back covers of one volume
Exhibited:
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Galeries Lafayette, Paris, April 1990
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

Lot 41 Commentary
Quite apart from its other qualities as a snuff bottle, this material is as exciting as any known in hair-crystal, not only because of the rich variation in the thickness and distribution of the tourmaline crystals or hairs, but because of the strong iridescence created by light refraction where flaws have created microscopic chasms in the crystal. The combination of different sizes and shapes of tourmaline needles and their irregular density of distribution, combined with this iridescence, allows enormous potential in the delightful game of interpreting the random markings as representational subject matter. Bats flying low over the surface of rippling water at sunset and fish swimming beneath it are only two of endless possibilities.

This celebrated hair-crystal (see discussion on material under Treasury 2, no. 193 for the material) is of a delightful form. With a plain and supremely elegant formal statement of this type, an appropriate stopper is vitally important. This is one of a small group of ideal shapes for this type of neck with its sharply flared profile. It resembles the shape of the summer hat which was official regalia at court during the Qing dynasty, hence the name we have coined for it, ‘official’s-hat’ stopper. It may not have been directly based upon it, however, since similar small stoppers for containers are known in centuries-old excavations, long predating the introduction of this type of hat as part of official regalia. Although the form is known to exist earlier, it might still have become popular, or even been based upon such hats in the Qing dynasty, which was noted for breaking with the past in matters of court dress. What could have been more natural than adapting the crowning glory of a purely Qing and initially, predominantly imperial art form to match the court hat of the emperor and officials who dominated it during the early years of its evolution? These stoppers are well suited to a number of snuff-bottle forms, but none more ideally than those with flared necks. The flare of the neck takes the visual energy sharply outwards at the neck and this must be balanced by bringing it sharply inwards again without undue depth, otherwise the neck appears heavy and clumsy. Imagine the effect of combining this form with a deep, straight-sided, flat-topped stopper and the importance of the stopper in matching the form becomes obvious, as does the suitability of these official’s-hat stoppers for flared necks. Here, the slightly vertical elongation of the sphere and the flaring of the neck draw visual energy upwards and outwards, which is then returned inwards and contained in the shallow, lipped bulge of the stopper. As a rule the rounded finial tends to return this energy, leading the eye back again to the bottle itself, although in this case an unusual, pointed finial also allows for the energy to extend beyond the form to point upward and by so doing, perhaps to emphasize the source of artistic energy as seen by the Chinese in the metaphor of heaven, representing an omnipotent and omnipresent spiritual source. A usual function for these finials is to maintain the visual energy and keep the eye in motion, returning it to the work of art which, in turn takes up the dance. The eye is kept intrigued as it is continuously moved around the work of art, and the kinetic energy of the sum-total of the languages involved is kept continuously dynamic.

 

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