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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 180 

Lot 180

Lot 180
Treasury 1, no. 50 (‘Mythical-Beast Pebble ‘)

Nephrite of pebble material; carved in the form of a crouching mythical beast with two horns, hooves, and pointed upper fangs protruding over the lower lip
Length: 5.5 cm (measured horizontal to the base)
Mouth: 0.45 cm
Stopper: nephrite

Hugh M. Moss Ltd (Hong Kong, 1985)

Treasury 1, no. 48

Which mythical animal was intended here is uncertain. The beast has a dog-like body and tail, a head that resembles a taotie from the front view, two simple curved horns, savage-looking teeth, and hooves. The material here is a small pebble of greenish-grey material that was probably not much larger than the bottle (the core colour can be seen beneath the creature where the flattened base of the bottle has dictated cutting further into the skin than on the rest of the body). The animal otherwise follows almost entirely the shape of the pebble, making it very much a ‘pebble’ bottle, regardless of its animal subject (it is also an animal-form bottle, of course).

The skin of the pebble material is a gorgeous russet colour; indeed it is almost a definition of the term ‘russet’, being the epitome of reddish-brown. It is also richly textured with a pattern of tiny darker flecks that suggest the fur of the beast. Not only is the skin a particularly pleasant colour, it has been used to extraordinary effect. Following the line of the pebble for the slump of the reclining beast, the carver has had to do no more than carve a little way through the skin around the haunches, head, tail, and facial details to achieve a convincing three-dimensionality on what are, in fact, very flat surfaces. The carving itself is not finely detailed, as can be readily seen around the horns and ears, which are depicted quite simply, but it is remarkably effective. The carver has relied upon the sculptural power of the pebble, with its delightful colour and texture for his effect, and used only sufficient detail to convincingly create his chosen form. The hollowing of the bottle, while perfectly functional, does not go deeply into the beast.

There is a solid area, 1.1 cm deep, in the rump. This may indicate that it is a later Qing bottle, made at a time when function was giving way to outer form and it was enough to create a lovely sculpture without going to more trouble in the hollowing than was necessary to provide sufficient space for snuff. Another possibility is that it was a conversion. The mouth of the bottle is cut through the details of the creature’s mouth and even through part of one tooth. However, this is standard for some animal forms that were made as bottles and is, in itself, not proof of a conversion. If it were a conversion, moreover, one would expect that the original sculpture had been made some time before—there is little point in hollowing out a brand new animal carving to make a snuff bottle when one could order a snuff bottle from the same workshop—but this does not appear to be the case here. As an independent animal carving, one would not date this beast to earlier than the mid-Qing period in any case. Conclusion: it was probably made as a snuff bottle right from the start.


This is not the Sotheby’s sale catalogue. This is a product of Hugh Moss for the purposes of this website. For the catalogue details please refer to Sotheby’s website or request a copy of a printed sale catalogue from Sotheby’s






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