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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 55 

Lot 55


Lot 55
Treasury 5, no.835 (‘Chow Chi’)

An aquamarine-blue glass 'chi dragons' snuff bottle

Transparent aquamarine-blue glass with a few tiny air bubbles; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; carved with a continuous design of two chi dragons chasing flaming pearls amidst clouds
Attributable to the imperial glassworks, 1750-1820
Height: 7.13 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.61/1.3 cm
Stopper: coral, carved with a chi dragon; pearl finial

Edward T. Chow
Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 5 May 1994, lot 1415

Chow 1988, p. 25 (top left) and p. 26, no. S.11
Kleiner 1995,no. 148
Treasury 5, no.835

Collections Baur, Geneva, October 1988-January 1989
British Museum, London, June-October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July-November 1997

We have made mention of the select group of snuff bottles gathered by pre-eminent dealer and collector Edward Chow in the mid-twentieth century (Sale 2, lot 38). This, another of his bottles, is one of the most imposing of a group of mid-Qing examples carved from solid blocks of glass (as proven by the weight, the bubble-structure—such as it is, with so few bubbles—and the hollowing, obviously carried out by a lapidary). We can be reasonably certain that the original intention here was to imitate aquamarine. In Sale 2, lot 51, we discussed a group of bottles, some in semi-precious stones such as aquamarine and beryl, that were closely related to a group of glass bottles of similar colours carved from solid blocks. Although atypical in having dragons as the main-side decoration rather than on the narrow sides, this evokes the stone bottles that were, we believe, the inspiration for imitations in glass.

Aquamarine was among the stones that came from western borderland areas that were under Qing control in the late-Qianlong period; it was found in the Altaic Mountains and in Daqingshan in Suiyuan (in present-day Inner Mongolia). And, of course, it could be imported from more distant areas by land or sea. The problem was that even if an aquamarine rock was large enough for a snuff bottle to be made from it, it was likely to be flawed. The imperial glassworks could produce an enormous range of colours, so it would have been natural for them to try to make up for lapses in supply and even outdo the mines in providing the emperor with the most beautiful, flawless material. To the carver, of course, it made little difference whether he was working on a piece of aquamarine or a lump of solid glass.

Apart from the lovely shape and exquisite material, which both resembles and feels like a flawless piece of aquamarine - provided one overlooks the slight difference in ambient temperature - the carving here is excellent, although one has seen slightly more elegant poses for these beasts.

Another feature of the overall work of art here is the quite gorgeous stopper. The base of the bulging form is exactly the same size as the mouth, suggesting that the bottle to which this stopper was originally matched (if it is not original to this bottle) would also have bulged outwards above the mouth and looked too big. This, however, makes for very easy removal of the stopper and is extremely practical. The design of the stopper adds an additional chi dragon to the equation, bringing the number to an auspicious three. The finial, less dominant than on Sale 3, lot 25, is nonetheless half of a pearl and would probably have originally graced an imperial bottle (if our assumption about prominent pearl finials is correct). The spoon and cork are obviously not as old as the stopper.


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Hugh Moss |