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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 9 

Lot 9

Lot 9
Treasury 2, no. 328 (‘The Liu Hai Green Quartz’)

Quartz (dendritic jasper, crystal, dendritic chalcedony, and agate); well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; carved in partial double cameo with Liu Hai, holding a coin, his three-legged toad in front of him on a rocky ledge emitting a cloud of vapour in which flies a bat, all set in a rocky landscape that wraps around one narrow side where lingzhi grow from a tall rocky outcrop
Attributable to the Stevens Deer Master; Official School, 1750–1850
Height: 6.3 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.6/1.92 cm
Stopper: amethyst; gilt-silver collar

Christie’s London, 7 June 1993, lot 203

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 237
Treasury 2, no. 328
The University of Hong Kong, 1999, p.91.

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995  
University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, 1999.

Initially this extraordinary carving in unique material refused to qualify itself for any particular school or artist, perhaps because the material was so bizarre and striking that we missed the clues. Eventually, however, it became likely that it is by the Stevens Deer Master and just a rare departure from his usual animal masterpieces. The most obvious clue is in the rockwork style, with its overlapping planes of jagged shapes cut with a series of regularly placed small dots, not along the edge of the plane, as in Zhiting Suzhou style, but just to one side of the line, leaving the line itself intact. Although it resembles the Zhiting school style on the surface, it may have nothing to do with it and simply be this artist’s personal way of texturing his rockwork. The magnificent deer bottle in the Stevens Collection, referred to under Treasury 2, no. 326 and the inspiration for this master’s name, has similar dotting, although not quite so regularly disposed. With that clue to guide us, we find a similar level of genius in using different planes of colour in unusual material.

This unusual piece of stone has a plane of regular dendritic agate (of the green variety usually called moss agate) used for the bat, the coin in Liu Hai’s hand, and the frog. This is superimposed on a layer of flawed beige crystal, providing the figure, the cloud of vapour, and the top of the rocky outcrop on which the large and convincingly three-dimensional frog sits on a ground that is of partially dendritic jasper. This ground plane is of a lively mixture of various colours of green and reddish-brown, and much of it is made up of dendritic material similar to the high-relief plane, but more dense. Indeed, it is a lesson in the varieties of quartz, since one can see how heavily compacted green dendritic agate, for instance, becomes opaque jasper if the inclusions are dense enough. It also has some small areas of striated agate.

The last clue to the maker of this bottle lies in the impeccable detailing of the bottle itself, in its hollowing, and particularly in its foot detail. This artist seems to have taken the foot of each bottle very seriously in his better works, and this one is no exception. The recessed oval foot is perfectly flat, flawlessly finished, and surrounded by a crisply carved and formally perfect footrim.

The three-legged toad and the rather large coin in the figure’s hand have led us to identify him as Liu Hai, but see discussion under Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 140, where a similar grouping is found, also with vapour issuing from the toad’s mouth, and a possible alternative identification of the figure with the legendary Mr. Hou is proposed (but note that the given name Xianxing, quoted there, was a corruption derived from our quoted source of Xiansheng, Chinese for ‘Mr.’).


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 |