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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 27 

Lot 27

   

Lot 27
Treasury 6, no. 1149
HK$3,960,000

Southern Moon-Flask

Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim; the slightly convex circular panel on each main side painted with waterside landscape scenes, one a winter scene in which two scholars, one holding a walking staff, cross a bridge towards a house beneath pines, a view through the window revealing a volume of books set on a desk inside, with a distant open pavilion on the far bank of the river beyond, the other a spring scene in which a scholar, also with a walking staff, crosses a bridge towards a fenced dwelling beneath trees, with paddy fields in the distance; the panels surrounded by a diaper design of interlocking fylfots (wan symbols); the neck with a band of acanthus leaves; the foot inscribed in iron-red seal script Qianlong nian zhi (Made during the Qianlong period); the lip, inside of the neck, and footrim all painted gold; the interior glazed
Attributed to Tang Ying, imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 1736–1756
Height: 5.08 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.09
Stoppers: ivory; original

Lot 27 Provenance:
Robert Hall (1995)

Published:
Hall 1995, no. 1
Robert Hall, business Christmas card, 1995
JICSBS, Winter 1995, p. 1
Robert Hall, business brochure, undated
Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, no. 95
Treasury 6, no. 1149
JICSBS, Spring 2009, p. 9, fig. 9
Exhibited:
The Tsui Museum of Art, Hong Kong, October 1996

Lot 27 Commentary 
It was once generally believed that the production of porcelain snuff bottles did not begin significantly until the second half of the Qianlong period. Early-Qianlong enamelled porcelain snuff bottles were extremely rare and, until very recently, few of them had been published. However, with the recent publication of several early bottles associated with Tang Ying, who directed the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen during the early Qianlong period, and recent access to the imperial Archives concerning the manufacture of works of art, we now have a clearer picture of porcelain snuff-bottle production.

This bottle is part of a series of the same form and colour scheme but with different landscape panels, each with one or more scholars in evidence. Six are known in addition to this one, and another in the Bloch Collection (Treasury 6, no. 1148), making eight in all. They are published in Geng Baochang and Zhao Binghua1992, no. 137 (also in JICSBS, Spring 2006, p. 4, fig. 3); Lam 2003, p. 8, figs. 3a-c; Sotheby’s, New York, 23 March 1998, lot 79, (also in JICSBS, Autumn 1998, p. 24, fig. 2, a pair now in the Crane Collection); and a pair in Drouot, Millon-Jutheau, Paris, 2 February 1983.

From the condition of the ivory spoons, the silk binding of the cork, and the enamels, it is obvious that the Bloch examples were barely used before becoming treasured collector’s items, and they probably resided in the imperial collection for some long time before leaking onto the market, most likely between 1860 and 1924. The fact that the delicate original stoppers, ivory spoons, and integral corks (wrapped around with imperial yellow silk to provide a tight fit) have survived is another indication that the bottles are probably from the imperial collection and were not distributed by the court t the time.

We know from the records that the emperor instructed Tang Ying not to make stoppers for the fifty porcelain snuff bottles he required each year (see Chronological List in Treasury 6, for 1744, third month, sixteenth day). Thus, Tang Ying bottles from the early Qianlong reign were stoppered only after they arrived at the court; even though several, including the Bloch examples, have what appear to be original stoppers, none of the surviving examples has porcelain stoppers. Another of Tang Ying’s likely products (in the Philadelphia Museum of Art Collection) has a similar, original ivory stopper. It is part of another series of bottles with poems and seals mentioned under Treasury 6, no. 1150. This suggests that what we see here was a standard type. We have in the past referred to this type of stopper as an ‘official’s-hat’ stopper, but here it can be seen to resemble the emperor’s more elaborate formal hats, a far more likely source of inspiration on imperial snuff bottles. An extraordinary original stopper on a unique Yongzheng enamelled-metal snuff bottle in the Marakovic Collection (China Guardian, 21 October 1996, lot 1879; also JICSBS, Spring 2004, front cover, centre) is based on the emperor’s hat, complete with a real pearl finial. It is, no doubt, an early and more realistic prototype of the standard later form with its simplified, smaller finial and integral collar. The ivory version which appears on some Tang Ying bottles, including this one, are of the earlier type, with their more prominent finials.

To what extent these bottles were made as a set, or as significant groups of two, four, six, eight, or however many, is not clear. Although the scenes here may have been intended to represent the four seasons, the only apparent connection between the sixteen different scenes on the eight known bottles is the predominance of scholars in landscape.

The construction of these bottles is interesting and may throw some light on the early range of bottles supervised by Tang Ying. They are constructed in the standard Qing-dynasty way of making a moon flask, by luting two moulded halves together vertically along the narrow sides. (The earlier, Ming method for moon flasks — snuff bottles did not exist then — was to lute two sections horizontally). The bulging strip of slip porcelain that was used to lute them together remains clearly visible on the inside, although the outside has been smoothed off to conceal the join. In this case, however, a rare departure for the snuff-bottle world is seen in the treatment of the foot, made separately and luted onto an oval hole left in the original two-part mould for the main body. This leaves an oval recession inside where the hollow foot is affixed to the body. This distinctive feature is also found on Treasury 6, no. 1150, also attributed to Tang Ying’s supervision, and on all of the other early bottles likely to have been made under his watchful eye that we have been able to handle so far.

The formal quality of this group of early-Qianlong porcelain snuff bottles and the standard of the painting and enamelling are extraordinary. The scenes are each individually composed and exquisitely painted. Since its identification, this early group of imperial porcelain snuff bottles has been widely admired and has appropriately drawn a great deal of attention from collectors. They are far harder to find than imperial enamels on metal produced at the palace workshops contemporaneously, and they are as rare as palace enamelled glass bottles of the early Qianlong period, perhaps even rarer.

The involvement of Tang Ying personally in this series of bottles is discussed under Treasury 6, no. 1150, and is also the subject of an article: Moss 2009. Although we have left open the possibility of this group of bottles dating from later in Tang’s career, they may well date from as early as the 1740s.
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Hugh Moss |