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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 27 May 2013: Lot 146 

Lot 146

Lot 146
Treasury 1, no. 39 (‘The Gerd Lester Painted Jade’)

Nephrite with artificial colour; well hollowed with a slightly concave inner lip and a recessed convex foot; carved with mask-and-ring handles, the natural network of tiny fissures in the surface enhanced with staining
Height: 5.8 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.65/1.80 cm
Stopper: glass; calcite (?) finial; bronze collar

Hugh M. Moss Ltd (London, 1977)
Gerd Lester (1986)

Treasury 1, no. 39

Visually, this bottle falls into the general category of so-called ‘chicken-bone’ jade, otherwise known as ‘burnt’, or ‘calcified’ jade (see discussion under Treasury 1, no. 37). In this case there is no indication of either calcification due to burial (which, with a nephrite snuff bottle, would be out of the question in any case) or heating of the material either before or after carving. It seems more likely that the material was naturally of this crackled beige colour and that the resemblance is accidental. It is certain that the crackling here is natural to the material and not the result of dissection due to heat, as is the case with burnt jade, and beige is within the natural range of colours for nephrite. The carver, however, obviously noted the similarity to ancient burial material, wherein lay the appeal of the ‘chicken-bone’ material, and decided to take advantage of it by further staining to add either all of the black speckling or to greatly enhance what was there. There are two obvious clues to this. The black is entirely contained within the natural cracks that permeate the stone: even the paler areas of colour between the network of surface flaws are revealed under magnification to be a secondary network of finer crackle. The second clue is that the colour was clearly added after the carving was finished, since a great deal of the black pigment is concentrated in the carving lines of the mask-and-ring handles, giving the effect of ink having been rubbed into the surface and then only partially cleaned off.

This adds almost a painterly dimension to the sculptural languages of jade carving, albeit as a wholly abstract dialect. By adding artificial colour, the jade carver could manipulate his material in the same way that a modern sculptor might choose to patinate a cast bronze with any number of possible colours and textures, changing the surface effect quite dramatically. The result is too abstract here to be interpreted as representational subject matter, but it does add a lovely textural dimension, particularly to the darker side.

Another unusual detail here is the concavity of the lip, which, though slight, is confined entirely to the inner half of the lip. Concave lips often leave a narrow flat rim around the outer lip, but rarely one as large as this.

The mask handles are of a standard design for Qing snuff bottles, with the head framed by formalized curls, no ears, long eyebrows (the ends of which provide the lower level of curls), broad, flat nose, circular eyeballs set close together in eyes that echo the shape of the eyebrows, and a ring (either circular or oval) emerging from the upper jaw (there being no lower jaw, which is standard for mask-and-ring handles in general). Similar handles, sometimes with minor variations, are found on a range of bottles too varied in material and style to suggest a single workshop or even regional centre. The style probably represents a standard for mask-and-ring handles, perhaps originating at court but applied to both imperially and commercially made bottles thereafter for a long period of time at several different regional centres, although it seems likely that the style remained a predominantly northern one.


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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