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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 57 

Lot 57

Lot 57
Treasury7, no. 1679 (‘Pine-Grove Gathering’)
HK$312,500

Ivory; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim; carved, with some undercutting to leave elements of the design free standing, to depict the Eighteen Luohan, one with a five-clawed imperial dragon, another accompanied by a Buddhist lion, gathering in a pine grove in a rocky landscape, the dragon emerging from formalized clouds; the neck with a band of double-unit leiwen (thunder pattern); the outer footrim with a band of simplified petals; the foot inscribed in seal script, Qianlong nian zhi (Made during the Qianlong period)
Imperial Master, Japan, 1854–1910
Height: 6.18 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.62 cm
Stopper: jet, carved with a coiled chi dragon; pearl finial

Provenance:
James A. Johnson, Minneapolis (1988)
J. J. Lally & Co. (1988)
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1988)

Published:
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994,no. 254
Oriental Art, Spring 1994, p. 37, fig. 10
Kleiner 1995, no. 316
JICSBS, Autumn 2000, front cover
Treasury 7, no. 1679

Exhibited:
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–January 1995
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

The mastery and individual creativity of the Imperial Master are exemplified in the pine trees here. Their placement and the configuration of their roots are different on each bottle, not simply repeated as a formula. This is clearly not an artist repeating standard, pattern-book designs, but a highly creative master carver rethinking his compositions each time. Among his works in ivory bearing reign marks, this is the most heavily undercut; it has the greatest extent of free-standing relief, atypical of the moulded porcelain bottles, but standard for many of the finest Japanese ivory bottles that make no pretence of being Chinese, such as Sale 3, lot 131.

The stunning artistic and technical skills of the Imperial Master are exhibited here in one of his most exciting carvings. Towards one narrow side, standing beside the twisting trunk of an ancient pine that is carved so far clear of the ground plane that one could tie a cord around it, one luohan leans out almost at a right angle away from the surface of the bottle, gazing intently (perhaps with a touch of unsaintly acerbity) as if to demand to know what a mere snuff bottle collector is doing intruding on his sacred gathering of fellow sages. When we thought these bottles were eighteenth century and imperial, we must have been blinded by the artistic weight and astonishing carving skills represented here, or we might have noticed that the Buddhist lion was alarmingly similar to the Japanese equivalent, the shishi, with its far more impressive beard and star-studded flanks. Pondering that, we might have recalled that the two animals in Chinese depictions of the luohan group are always the dragon and tiger, never a dragon in combination with a lion. We might also have sensed that the bare-chested luohan holding his walking staff beside the lion looked unusually Japanese in style. But finally, we really should have spotted the anomaly of having a five-clawed imperial dragon emerge from the alms bowl of an ancient Indian sage. The Japanese carver obviously knew that the five-clawed dragon, associated with the imperial family in China, would be fitting to appear on an imperial snuff bottle, but missed the point that the dragon here relates to the luohan, not to the emperor, and a five-clawed beast is quite inappropriate.

The stopper here is not the original. It came from the stopper hoard of Hugh Moss during his brief ownership of the bottle. It is an old Chinese stopper, and a unique one to boot; its pearl finial and chi dragon design suggest it was an imperial one originally. Thus we have another little moment of irony in our reassessment of this lovely group of bottles: the bottles turns out to be Japanese, while the stopper added to match it may well be Chinese, eighteenth century, and imperial.

 

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.

 

Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1690&exhibition=12&ee_lang=eng


  
  

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