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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 87 

Lot 87


Lot 87
Treasury 1, no. 73 (‘The Kardos Ringed-Jade’)

A white and russet nephrite 'double gourd' snuff bottle

Nephrite of pebble material; of double-gourd form, hollowed into both bulbs and with a naturalistic, concave foot; with a loose ring around the waist
Possibly imperial, perhaps palace workshops, Beijing, 1730–1800
Height: 5.23 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.34/.8 cm
Stopper: coral
Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Elisabeth and Ladislas Kardos
Sotheby’s, New York, 1 July 1985, lot 122
Janos Szekeres
Sotheby’s, New York, 5 June 1987, lot 164

Connaissance des Arts, November 1971, p. 104
Chinese Snuff Bottles (Vancouver Centennial Museum), colour slide folder, no. 18
Stevens 1976, no. 395
Arts of Asia, November–December 1985, p. 136
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 35
Treasury 1, no. 73

Vancouver Centennial Museum, October 1977
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

The conception here is delightful, with the ever-popular double-gourd form with a loose ring around its waist. This could possibly function as a connection for a cord so that the bottle could be suspended, in which case the greater weight of the lower bulb would keep the stopper upwards, even if not upright, but it is almost certainly just a decorative conceit.

The technical virtuosity of this bottle lies in carving the free-standing loose ring from the same block of material as the bottle while maintaining the formal integrity of each.

Closely related in conception are vases with lids attached by long chains, all carved from the same piece of material. These became popular during the Qianlong period, particularly on imperial wares, and they continue to be made as a platform for technical virtuosity. The technique, in fact, is not all that difficult, just a trifle painstaking, but to achieve it as faultlessly as here, with the perfectly round ring and the formal integrity of the bottle, lifts a highly technical performance into the realm of art. An additional master-touch is found in the imaginative use of the colour. The material has a natural dark brown area on one side, probably the skin of the pebble with its outer surface removed, which is reflected in the ring. This allows one to become physically as well as psychologically active in the artistic process by altering the composition as the coloured part of the ring is moved around. It almost seems to echo in miniature the highly sophisticated handscroll format in Chinese painting, which allows the viewer to become engrossed in the creative process by altering and refining the formal arrangement of a long painting by revealing only a little at a time to the eyes.

The tentative attribution to the palace and the suggestion of imperial provenance is based upon another similar bottle in white nephrite from the imperial collection that has a flared neck and an entirely convincing four-character Qianlong mark in seal script on its base (Chang Lin-sheng 1991, no. 121). The lack of a flared neck in this example is not a significant difference, since no. 123 in the same collection, which has a neck similar to this one, is a double gourd with an imperial Qianlong mark, suggesting a range of possible neck profiles for imperial double gourd snuff bottles. There is another bottle in white nephrite in the Bloch Collection (no. 74) that has a loose ring and a neck similar to this example, and a third one with flared neck in the Seattle Art Museum (Fuller 1970, Plate 57, top right). See also Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 5 May 1994, lot 1488.

The idea behind this bottle is so intriguing that once someone thought of it, other carvers had only to see the bottle or be told of the idea in order to adopt it. There are no other features inherent in this bottle to suggest that an individual, unmarked example must be imperial, although knowledge of the marked example in the imperial collection shows that the type certainly was.


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Hugh Moss |