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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part V  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2012: Lot 39 

Lot 39


Lot 39
Treasury 2, no. 333 (‘The Hults Auspicious Crystal’)

A crystal waisted gourd snuff bottle

Crystal; carved in the form of a double gourd, extremely well hollowed into both bulbs with a flat lip and concave foot surrounded by a small, rounded footrim; carved in relief regular script on each side with the two characters Daji (‘Extensive good fortune’), and in low relief with a simulated brocade wrapped diagonally around the body and tied in a bow, a series of raised bosses around the base
Possibly Imperial, 1730–1850
Height: 6.6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.6/1.7 cm
Stopper: carnelian; jadeite finial; stained ivory collar

Ralph Hults
Elisabeth and Ladislas Kardos
Sotheby’s, New York, 1 July 1985, lot 88

Arts of Asia, November-December 1985, p. 135
Kleiner 1987, no. 136
Treasury 2, no. 333
Gugong bowuyuan 2000, no. 110

Sydney L. Moss Ld., London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

The double-gourd form was a popular standard at court for the snuff bottle, and indeed for a wide variety of other objects. It symbolised ample progeny, growing as it did in large numbers from a single vine. The brocade tied around a vessel was a symbol of longevity, and the meaning of the characters inscribed on each side is unambiguous. Thus, this bottle carries the wish for longevity, good fortune, and ample progeny, a suitably generalized theme for courtly gifts to and from the emperor or anyone else with access to the output of Imperial workshops. The unusual line of raised bosses (ruding) evoke the sound ding which can mean, among a variety of connotations, a male offspring. They are added to the double gourd-shaped bottle to enhance the implication of fertility embodied by this fruit.

The quality of artistry and technique are unmatched here, with extraordinary sculptural grace perfectly achieved. The bottle tapers towards the neck, as do most double-gourd forms, but from the narrow-side view, it tapers the opposite way, creating a subtle and impressive variation. The relief inscriptions are faultlessly achieved, and the diagonal sash is a masterstroke, a counterpoint to the symmetrical formality of the shape and inscriptions. Each of the two characters chosen is symmetrical, as is their disposition, central to each bulb and repeated on each side. The hollowing is also as thin as can be imagined for such a difficult form and impeccably achieved. If this was not made at an Imperial workshop for the court or as tribute to the court representing the finest that could be made elsewhere, it must certainly represent a type that would have been.

Ralph Hults was one of the more eccentric collectors of the mid-century; his appetite for fine snuff bottles and driving enthusiasm as a collector was matched by a sometimes alarming lack of restraint. He could have given Gerry Mack a run for his money as one of the more frightening collectors of the era. When visiting him to value his collection and falling short of Hults’s own rather optimistic estimations of value, Hugh Moss was frequently and loudly warned to get his ideas out of the gutter or get out of his house. The pick of his collection was split between Edward O’Dell and the Caldwells after he died, and how this little gem escaped their combined good taste is a mystery.

For related double gourds, see Sotheby’s, New York, 17 March 1997, lot 149, bearing the same auspicious inscription but with chi dragons on the narrow sides, strengthening the Imperial connection; Christie’s, New York, 20 March 1997, lot 244, similarly inscribed and with a floral surround that relates it to no. 335 in this collection, and Hall 1989, no. 40, an unusual example in brown crystal with the same auspicious characters but no other decoration. Another in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 98) also has chi dragons in low, flat relief.


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Hugh Moss |