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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 86 

Lot 86

Lot 86
Treasury 4, no. 530 (‘Cussons’ Decent Handful’)

Crystal with ice-like flaws, ink, and watercolours; with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; painted on one main side with an illustration of a story from the Liaozhai zhiyi (Strange Tales of Liaozhai) in which a magistrate entreats the Goddess of the Locusts, who sits on her donkey, to spare his district, inscribed in clerical script with the title ‘The xiucai, Mr. Liu’ followed in draft script by ‘Executed by Ye Zhongsan in the first month of winter in the year wushen’, with one seal of the artist, yin (‘seal’), in negative seal script, the other main side with two carp, five fan-tailed goldfish, and two minnows swimming among aquatic plants
Bottle: 1760–1880
Painting: Ye Zhongsan, the Apricot Grove Studio, Chongwen district, Beijing, first month of winter, 1908
Height: 6.81 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.82/2.46 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Sydney L. Moss Ltd. (circa 1962)
Alex S. Cussons (circa 1969)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (circa 1969)
The Heflene Collection (circa 1985)
Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1985)

Treasury 4, no. 530

Christie's, London, 1999 
Musee de la Miniature, Montelimar, 2000

The story illustrated comes from juan 14 of the Liaozhai zhiyi (see JICSBS, September 1980, p. 4). In Shandong province during the Ming dynasty there were plagues of locusts near the district of Yi. Sleeping restlessly one night, the local magistrate dreamed that a tall xiucai came to see him dressed in green. A xiucai is one who has been admitted to a prefecture or district school after passing the required qualifying examinations. The apparition offered to help the magistrate rid his district of these pests. The worried magistrate listened attentively and was told that on the following day, on the southeast road, he should look for a woman riding on a donkey, who would turn out to be the Goddess of the Locusts. She alone could help him. The magistrate was advised to entreat her earnestly. Upon awakening, the magistrate prepared himself. Armed with incense and wine, which he placed beside the road, he waited until the woman appeared. The magistrate humbly begged her to spare his small district. The Goddess agreed to his request, but added that since the scamp Liu had talked too much, he must bear the consequences. So when the sky filled with locusts, they stayed away from the crops but defoliated the willows. The Magistrate then understood that Liu was, in fact, the God of the Willows. (His surname means ‘willow’.)

This was one of Alex Cussons’ favourite inside-painted snuff bottles. He was a well-built, powerful man and he liked a decent handful in a snuff bottle. It is a shame that he never learned the meaning of the subjects, or he would have been even keener on it. As the chairman of the Cussons group, the famous manufacturers of soap, he was not averse to a good profit, and living the last years of his life on a farm in the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, he could probably have done with a little divine intervention with the forces of nature from time to time. In those days, however, symbolism was very much on a back-burner among the few scholars interested in the subject, few of whom had any Chinese sources at their disposal. It was enough to identify material, artist and date. The arcane language of the symbolic content was barely, if at all, recognized.


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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