Lot 96 Lot 97 Lot 98 Lot 99 Lot 100 Lot 101 Lot 102

photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 99 

Lot 99

Lot 99
Treasury7, no. 1680 (‘Garden Party’)

Ivory; with a flat lip and protruding concave foot surrounded by a flattened footrim; carved, with some undercutting to leave elements of the design free standing, to depict two scenes in a rocky garden landscape with ancient pine trees: on one main side, of a woman resting her arms on the balustrade on the lower level of a two-storey building and gazing at a another woman holding a child as she sits on a water buffalo being pulled around by a man who has tumbled on the ground while holding its lead, a man in a robe and an elaborate head-dress standing behind him to the right, and a retainer holding a canopy aloft beside the building and behind the water buffalo; on the narrow side around to the right, a man wearing an official’s hat standing among the pines; while on the other main side a chess board is set on a natural rock table in a clearing in front of a pavilion with a woman standing to the left holding a leaf-shaped fan, another woman, a man in an official’s hat, and a boy sitting at the table, with a sage beyond to the right holding a flywhisk over his shoulder; the foot inscribed in seal script, Qianlong nian zhi (Made during the Qianlong period)
Imperial Master, Japan, 1854–1910
Height: 5.6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.69/1.53 cm
Stopper: coral; ivory finial; ivory collar; original

Sotheby’s, London, 24 and 28 April 1987, lot 697

Kleiner 1987, no. 190
Arts of Asia, September–October 1990, p. 91
Kleiner 1995, no. 319
Flyer - British Museum Exhibition, 1995
JICSBS, Autumn 2000, front cover
Treasury 7, no. 1680

Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

Although bearing a Qianlong reign mark, this is one of the more Japanese-looking bottles from the hand of the Imperial Master. It is not taken from any known moulded porcelain original, it is of a broader form than most of those that are, and it has a number of stylistic elements that are a departure from the style of the porcelain originals. It is difficult to guess the origins of the subject, but in a Chinese version it is unlikely that a man would be shown playing chess with a woman, although, to be fair, they don’t look as if they are playing at all, and no pieces are in evidence. (The Imperial Master does get credit, though, for showing the game board for xiangqi, the Chinese version of chess, which includes an extra row without grid lines in the middle; sho-gi, the Japanese version, does not have this ‘canal dividing the forces of Chu and Han’.)

The hairstyle of the young spectator is also represented incorrectly. Instead of a top knot tied at the centre of his head, he should have been portrayed with two tied clusters of hair, each located above an ear, a standard hairstyle appropriate to a young boy. This misrepresentation is also evident in the hairdo of the infant carried by the woman riding the water buffalo. In Chinese iconography, no image of a woman holding a child and riding a buffalo comes to mind. Water buffaloes were associated with the idealized carefree life of the herd-boy (who would be riding it home, flying a kite from its back, playing a flute, or wading through water with it) or with farming labour. They were certainly not suitable vehicles for an elegant, obviously upper-class woman with her child. The final evidence of Japanese style is the profusion of pine trees and the manner of their depiction. On the porcelain originals, pines occur infrequently and only on certain subjects, and then usually as a peripheral detail. Here and on lot 57 in this auction, they are a central part of the design and are treated as such. On both bottles, they are among the finest, most artistic pine trees found on any carved snuff bottles; each tree might be a portrait of a particular ancient tree, its roots, trunk, and branches exquisitely well carved and full of character, the branches an exercise in calligraphic grace combined with careful observation. Another distinguishing feature of these pines is their foliage. On the original porcelain bottles, the foliage is usually depicted as raised circular areas painted simply with black lines on green with just enough detail to suggest pine-needle clusters without any real attempt to depict them accurately. Here, there is an ovoid shape to each cluster, its centre offset, giving the impression that the needle clusters are being blown by the wind (a different direction on each bottle). There is a far more committed attempt to depict the real tree.

The hollowing here is typical of the group. It is adequately but not extensively hollowed, and the interior is left relatively rough; this is easily detected by running the spoon around the inside. Ironically, although the Japanese carvers did not intend their works to be primarily functional, they provided them with a range of distinctive stoppers that are more functional than many of their Chinese counterparts. Where the original Japanese stoppers survive—and many have, of course, since they were made for collectors and the stoppers were not threatened by continual use—they provide a firm grip and facilitate removal, which is often not the case with the standard cabochon of the Chinese stopper.


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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