Lot 43 Lot 44 Lot 45 Lot 46 Lot 47 Lot 48 Lot 49

photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IV  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 November 2011: Lot 46 

Lot 46


Lot 46
Treasury 7, no.1538 (‘Elegant Conversation’)

A carved cinnabar lacquer 'figures' snuff bottle

Cinnabar-red and black lacquer on wood; with a flat lip and flat foot; carved with two layers of colour, red on black, to varying depths with a continuous rocky foreground connecting to a large, perforated natural rock formation on one narrow side with foliage growing in the background, and on the other narrow side with another rocky outcrop with a tree growing in front of it, the two dividing the main sides into two separate scenes, one of a scholar holding a folding fan and strolling on the bank of a waterway with a bearded attendant behind him holding an umbrella aloft to protect him from the sun, the foreground with a formalized floral diaper, the water with a formalized wave design, and the sky, beyond a middle ground of rocks, with a formalized cloud design, the other side with a boy and his nanny, he with a rigid fan, she with a feather fan, she leaning against an outcrop of rock, he on the ground, with a terrace beyond and a pond bordered on the far side by rocks; the shoulders with a continuous band of formalized clouds, the neck with small raised circles on a ground of repeated squares beneath an upper-neck rim band of continuous leiwen (thunder pattern), which is repeated around the base; the foot carved with a formalized shou (longevity) character; the lip painted red
Probably imperial, 1730–1800
Height: 6.13 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.5/1.47 cm
Stopper: cinnabar-red lacquer on wood; carved with a formalized chrysanthemum flower on a ground of formalized floral diaper with integral collar; possibly original
Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

King Feng, Hong Kong (1987)

Arts of Asia, September–October 1990, p. 93
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 263
Kleiner 1995,no. 330
JICSBS, Winter 2000, p. 15, fig. 46
Treasury 7, no.1538

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–January 1995
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

Cinnabar-lacquer is lacquer coloured by mercuric sulphide. It comes under the category of carved lacquer (diaoqi), although different colours and types have different names: tihong (carved red) is the term for cinnabar-red lacquer; tihuang is for yellow, and tihei is for black, while ticai (carved colours) refers to carved multi-coloured wares, and tixi is the name used for what has become known as guri-lacquer in the West, where alternating layers of red and black are cut with deep trenches to reveal different planes of colour. A series of deeply carved lacquer bottles, predominantly of cinnabar- red lacquer, but often including layers of black, brownish-ochre, and dark green, were produced in China in some quantities.

The snuff bottles of this broad group are probably those referred to by Zhao Zhiqian in his late-nineteenth-century work on snuff bottles (Lynn 1991, p. 19): ‘During the Qianlong era carved red lacquerware (tihong) type bottles were made in imitation of Ming lacquerware, but one does not often see these nowadays.’ Six snuff bottles of the group remain in the imperial collection (see Gugong bowuyuan 1995, nos. 192–197, and Li Jiufang 2002, nos. 392–397). One wonders whether the palace workshops had a monopoly on the powers of persuasion that would motivate red-lacquer carvers, whose profession was known to be hazardous to health. We suggested in Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993 that the entire group was probably made at the palace workshops, as did Zhu Peichu and Xia Gengqi (Zhu and Xia 1998, plate 52), but this need not necessarily be the case. Suzhou was also known as a lacquer-making centre, and the imperial court maintained production facilities there for the production of a number of arts; Yangzhou was another lacquer-making centre. Given the quantities involved, it is plausible that the entire group was made at Suzhou or some other large-scale production centre for the court. Construction methods differ on very similar wares, as do the materials of the ground upon which pieces are lacquered. This one, for example, is on a wood base, while most are on bronze or brass, and Sale 3, lot 135, is unusual in having a lead or pewter lip. Such characteristics suggest perhaps a central patron and diverse production centres. It is also a possibility, of course, that the lacquer was made at one workshop and carved in another; these two workshops would not necessarily be geographically close. The production of the raw material, applying it in readiness for carving, and carving were three totally different arts. Once a blank form was made, it might have been carved either at a local carving workshop or at the palace workshops.

We believe that the most likely time range for the snuff bottles of this group is from the Qianlong into the Jiaqing reign; the reign-mark evidence on related wares would suggest this. It is worth remembering that reign marks on imperial lacquer prior to the Qianlong period are very rare, so if it was only Qianlong and Jiaqing snuff bottles that were marked, it is quite possible that some of the unmarked ones are earlier. However, even if they began earlier, they appear to have been most popular in the late-Qianlong and Jiaqing years; moreover, the subject matter on a number of them echoes popular decoration on ceramic snuff bottles of the same period (see Treasury 6, nos. 1243–1246, for examples). Many of the scenes are taken from popular illustrated books or allude to figures from Chinese history.

The raised dot border at the neck is an unusual departure for this group, as is the broad, raised, upper-neck rim. To be sure, this is a typical palace feature on snuff bottles in general, but together with the fact that the lacquer is on wood, it may indicate a different workshop from the core group. This may also be why the stopper, which fits perfectly and matches, is atypical for the group. If the stopper is the original, it raises the possibility of a different place of production for this bottle. As a rule, the group as a whole usually has either lacquer-and-gilt-metal stoppers (often carved with formalized chrysanthemum designs) or metal stoppers, perhaps with inlaid stone finials or cabochons—these account for half of those in the imperial collection. Of course, the stopper may be a later match, which would explain why the colour of the red lacquer is very slightly different from that of the bottle. It is even possible that the stopper was made in Japan, perhaps especially for this bottle, in which case it might have been one of those that went to Japan during the second half of the nineteenth century and inspired the carvers there to emulate the style after export opportunities began to open up for Japanese makers following on the Kanagawa Treaty of 1854.

The Treasury commentary on this bottle includes a very complete list of known lacquer snuff bottles for the convenience of researchers.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1156&exhibition=9&ee_lang=eng


Lot 43 Lot 44 Lot 45 Lot 46 Lot 47 Lot 48 Lot 49


Hugh Moss |