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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 61 

Lot 61

Lot 61
Treasury 2, no. 276 (‘The Bewildered Duck Agate’)

Agate; irregularly hollowed, with a flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; the natural markings in the stone edited to form a design of a duck investigating the base of something beside a pond, with a fish tail slipping into the water beyond it
Official School, 1770–1880
Height: 6.1 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.85/2.20 and 2.04 cm (oval)
Stopper: jadeite; silver collar

Y. F. Yang (1977)
Belfort Collection (1986)

Jutheau 1980, p. 102
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 223
JICSBS,Autumn 1997, p. 7
Treasury 2, no. 276

L’Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

The artist has edited much of the surface, leaving an undulating plane as the cost of defining the shape of his duck, but has also added incised details. The eye and the gap between upper and lower beak have been incised, removing dark material to give a paler defining line.

While perfectly adequate to hold plenty of snuff, the hollowing is of the less exacting variety, following a different contour from the outside and leaving the inside of the shoulders rather irregular and slightly fan-shaped. The foot is also a recessed convex one (see discussion under Sale 3, lot 11), although very neatly done. Perhaps in concert these two signs of decline might indicate a nineteenth-century date, maybe even a mid-century one, but it is doubtful that such changes came along in neat and reliable waves; although useful clues, they will seldom prove to be entirely satisfactory as independent dating guides.

Other than the slightly less painstaking, although perfectly adequate hollowing, the bottle stands proud in terms of genius of interpretation and other detailing and finishing. Indeed, it is one of the more compelling of ink-play agates (it qualifies as agate because of the distinct banding that forms the lower area of the duck’s body). The bird itself is among the best in the medium, with its delightful pose and bright-eyed, perky expression. The inspirational genius of the best of this group of bottles is demonstrated time and time again by the extraordinary personality of the creatures so simply depicted. The positioning of the simple circle for the eye and the single line to distinguish the upper from the lower beak are exquisite, giving the duck the appearance of slight bewilderment as it leans forwards to investigate whatever has caught its attention beneath the lotus leaf or rock.


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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