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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 158 

Lot 158

Lot 158
Treasury 3, no. 427 (‘The Einstein Bat Coral’)

Coral; of reasonably well hollowed, irregular form with an irregular flattened foot; carved in relief with a large and a small bat flying amid formalized clouds
Height: 5.8 cm
Mouth: 0.38 cm
Stopper: coral, in the form of a twig

Mr. & Mrs. Lionel Rosenberg
Sotheby’s, New York, 26 November 1991, lot 164

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 278
Treasury 3, no. 427

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

The vast majority of coral carvings on a larger scale, mostly of figure groups and much of it carved in Japan from the late nineteenth century to the Second World War followed the form of coral’s tree-like structure, encouraging willowy figures and branch-like compositions. In snuff bottles, irregular forms were encouraged by irregularly formed material, and this is a typical example, obviously following the wavy line of either the main trunk or a large branch of the original coral ‘tree’, allowing its natural protuberances to create the relief areas and probably prompting the largest head we have ever seen on a Chinese bat, which must, presumably, have included an unusually large bat brain, hence the ‘Einstein’ name adopted for this bottle by the Blochs.

Although of palish colour, the material is delightfully even and with few of the flaws expected in any coral carving of good size, although there is a small fissure, certainly once filled with coral-coloured wax (a standard technique for dealing with such flaws); it has been partially disguised by the placing of one formalized cloud.

Another delightful feature of this bottle is the use of small white patches in the material, a common occurrence in coral. Each is small and circular, and two have been used as the larger bat’s eyes to extraordinary effect, while the others form the centre of formalized cloud swirls, giving them much greater energy than they would otherwise have had.

Although the stopper is ideally matched in material and colour and is of a type that may have been original, it is a common enough form for a twig-shaped coral stopper and does not sit so comfortably on the mouth as to suggest that it must be the original.


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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Hugh Moss |