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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 20 

Lot 20

Lot 20
Treasury 2, no. 318
HK$204,000

The Schoen Lucky Companions Cameo

Chalcedony; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding broad, convex footrim; carved with a partially cameo design of two horses grazing in a rocky landscape by a stream with a cameo inscription in relief clerical script ‘Lucky is the horse who drinks with a companion from a spring’
Official school, 1740–1840
Height: 6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.62/2.21 cm
Stopper: jadeite; gold collar



Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Lot 20 Provenance:
General Brayton Ives
Parish Watson & Co., New York
Martin Schoen
Kenneth Brown Inc.
Christie’s, New York, 22 September 1987, lot 213
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1987)

Published:
China Institute in America 1952, no. 59 (listed but not illustrated)
Moss 1971, no. 135
Stevens 1976, no. 569
Treasury 2, no. 318

Lot 20 Commentary:
This is another of the masterly bottles that appear to be of the Official school but reflect the Suzhou style of the school of Zhiting (see discussion under the previous example, Treasury 2, no. 317). Again the reference to the Suzhou school is found only in the relief inscription in a different colour and in the rockwork style which, unlike the last example, even includes Suzhou-style serrations cut into the multiple lines of the rocks. Otherwise it is a standard Official school bottle in every way, including the subject matter which is common for the school (see discussion under Treasury 2, no. 306). Although the paler horse is well rounded and carved in the ground colour apart from the masterly touch of using the relief, darker plane for its visible eye, the dark horse takes advantage of a thin plane of dark colour as do so many of the silhouette bottles of this school, and is essentially a two dimensional depiction simply raised to a relief plane. This is quite atypical of Zhiting’s school, to which the rock-style here seems to be referring. Even on the occasional Zhiting school jade using a thin plane of skin, the carvers at Suzhou tended to keep the whole design in low relief, rather than use a raised, flat plane for a linear depiction.

This, the form, and the undecorated back, typical of the Official school and rare at Suzhou, all link the bottle to the Official school, but there is another telling detail that further endorses the belief that it is an Official school bottle referring to Suzhou style, rather than the other way round. It is the use of a series of parallel incised lines as grass, or rock detailing carved into the rockwork (see discussion under Treasury 2, no. 306). This detail on rocks was second nature to the Official school, possibly even to the point that carvers had, by the mid-Qing period, even forgotten why they were doing it. If a Suzhou carver wanted to copy the rockwork style of the Official school, and it is difficult to imagine why, since their own rock-style was so much more impressive as a rule, they would surely have copied the form rather than the meaningless detail superimposed upon it. This detail is unknown from the Zhiting school but practically obligatory on rocks for the Official school.

This is of the same subject as one of the other stylistic cross-over bottles in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Helen White, Snuff Bottles from China, Plate 19, no. 3) and bears the same inscription also in cameo clerical script, translated by Helen White as: ‘Envy their friendship in enjoying a drink at a running brook.’

As with other subjects where two creatures are shown, one dark and the other light, the yinyang symbol of Daoist cosmology would also have been evoked, adding another layer of meaning to this particular bottle which is absent from the one in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Although this bottle is not illustrated in the Schoen catalogue, it is unquestionably the same bottle. Even without Bob Stevens’ identification of it as having come from the Schoen Collection, it is well described in the catalogue, complete with a correct translation of the inscription, rare in so early a catalogue, and it still has the same stopper.

The stopper is distinctive, and one of a small group which may have been made early this century in China for a particular exporter of snuff bottles, perhaps specifically for the American market since they seem to have ended up in early American collections. They are of solid gold, which is unusual, incorporating an integral cork and spoon, also in gold, and have the series of overlapping circles as the collar decoration and always sit over the neck, the collar designed to cover the upper few millimetres of neck (in this case 3 mm). They may have been made by or for a Western dealer or collector. The idea of overlapping the neck in this way would be strange for any Chinese dealer who would have understood the standard for stoppers in China. The lack of hall mark, however, raises the possibility that they may have been made in the East.

 

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