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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 92 

Lot 92

Lot 92
Treasury 2, no. 294 (‘The Count Blucher White Dragon Agate’)
HK$43,750

Agate; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed, very slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim; carved with mask-and-ring handles
Official School, 1740–1850
Height: 6.33 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.73/2.29 cm
Stopper: coral, carved with a chi dragon; pearl finial

Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
Kurt Graf Blucher von Wahlstatt (Count Blucher)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
Heflene Collection (V. Meglys)
Robert Hall (1984)

Published:
Moss 1971, p. 17, fig. 30
Moss 1971a, no. 40 and cover
Kleiner 1987, no. 146
Galeries Lafayette 1990, p. 10, no. 3
Treasury 2, no. 294

Exhibited:
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Galeries Lafayette, Paris, April 1990
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

We cannot doubt that plain and decorated bottles were made by the same workshops, an excellent example being the jade bottle sold at Sotheby’s, New York, as lot 225, 17 September 1996, with typical Suzhou form, shape of neck, detailing of mouth and concave oval foot but without any decoration. It can hardly have been other than a product of Suzhou and presumably came from the school of Zhiting (see numerous examples in previous parts of this series of auctions), which produced the more readily recognizable decorated style. By the same token, form, hollowing, detailing of lip and foot, and distinctive mask handles identify this with decorated examples of the Official School.

The most common standard for mask-and-ring handles on chalcedony bottles is represented here and on Sale 6, lot 109, where they are better illustrated because of the less visually confusing base material. They consist of usually quite prominent masks with broad, pug-like noses, eyes that taper outwards but have large, circular iris/pupil areas close to the bridge of the nose, and eyebrows that curl outwards and upwards to blend with a fringe of formalized curls framing a tall, bulbous forehead, usually with a circular or oval bulbous segment carved into it. The lower jaw of the beast is absent, as on most mask-and-ring handles, and the rings are usually either circular or oval.

Similar mask-and-ring handles appear on a fairly wide range of other materials, including some, such as glass, which are sensibly attributable to the court, and it probably represents a northern standard, originating at court but perhaps forming the basis for regional style on wares made for the court and probably passing, in time, into common production elsewhere in the empire. Their common occurrence on a wide range of chalcedony bottles, whether plain, silhouette or cameo, is one feature that suggests that many of these bottles may have been made at, or for the court, as we have proposed for the Official School. Although insufficient evidence exists at present for specific attribution as imperial or to a particular workshop, a bottle such as this can be attributable to the same group as the more easily identified products of the Official School and would be entirely consistent with imperial production during the mid-Qing period. The mask handles are, for instance, stylistically identical to those on Sale 4, lot 34.

Attention is diverted from its excellent formal integrity and elegance by the visually demanding nature of the material, but generous proportions of this snuff bottle are exquisitely realized. Although the recessed foot is slightly convex, suggesting a hint of second-phase decline, it is very well carved and represents more of an artistic choice than a lazy alternative. The hollowing is impeccable and the mask handles very well carved, beautifully rounded, and well finished. The bottle may date from the late Qianlong period, but knowing that excellent quality, fine hollowing, and even good detailing of the foot continued well into the Daoguang period, we cannot rule out a later date.

 

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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