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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 39 

Lot 39

   

Lot 39
Treasury 1, no. 2
Estimate HK$264,000

Standing-Rock Pebble

Nephrite of pebble material; very well hollowed with a recessed, slightly convex foo
1730–1860
Height: 9.02 cm
Mouth: 0.71 cm
Stopper: jadeite, carved as a crouching frog

Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Lot 39 Provenance:
Robert Hall (1987)
Published:
Hall 1987, no. 56
Treasury 1, no. 2
Exhibited:
Robert Hall Gallery, London, October 1987

 Lot 39 Commentary
Like Treasury 1, no. 1 this is also a pebble bottle in both senses of the word (see also discussion under Treasury 1, no. 62). It follows almost entirely the natural form of an irregular pebble, complete with its yellowish-russet skin. The exception is at the base where a recessed circular foot has been carved out of the once rounded end of the natural pebble, revealing the white core material. A foot, and a unique one for pebble bottles with a defined foot, was undoubtedly added because the form of the pebble is sculpturally more powerful in this upright position. It transforms the natural pebble into a rock-sculpture. The Chinese were obsessed with natural rock formations as art (see discussion under Treasury 1, no. 118). There was an immense range of possibilities for these stones which became a staple of studio, home and garden from the Tang dynasty onwards. Some were convoluted, full of holes and crags, while others were smooth and plain. Even stalagmites and stalactites were mounted on stands for house, terrace or garden. Many of these were miniatures, often set on elaborate stands on the scholar’s table to evoke the grandeur of nature. The impression given by this snuff bottle is of a monolithic boulder standing upright in the earth. Were it not for the stopper it could be of any size in the imagination, which was, of course, an essential feature of these microcosmic landscape rocks. They allowed the aesthete to sit at a desk and still travel mentally to the towering peaks and valleys of distant mountain ranges.

The stopper somewhat dominates the nature of this sculpture, which is otherwise quite plain and abstract in its own right, and even though the frog limits the scale of the rock by its own obvious limitations in size, it is one of the finest frogs known in the stopper world. Made from a gorgeous piece of emerald-green jadeite, it is of generous proportions and simply but evocatively carved to give it great personality with bug-eyes and a very wide mouth, fixed in a rather cynical, know-it-all, expression. Perched on the very tip of the rock, it becomes a major element of the sculpture, dictating not only its style but the personality of the entire work of art. Indeed, the subject becomes the stopper and the rock the setting. With this stopper, this is a frog-on-a-boulder snuff bottle, and a delightful one at that, rather than a pebble snuff bottle with a frog-shaped stopper. This is an ideal subject for the idea of alternative stoppers suggested under Treasury 1, no. 55. A stalk, for instance, would transform it into a fruit- or vegetable-form, and differing sizes of other naturalistic elements (lingzhi, birds, other creatures, or whatever) would radically change the scale and qualities of the rock-form.

 

 

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