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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 43 

Lot 43

Lot 43
Treasury7, no. 1696 (‘Country Life’)

Ivory and pale yellowish-brown pigment; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flattened footrim (the foot a separate section); carved in varying relief on each main side with a mountainous summer landscape scene, one side with a scholar crossing a plank bridge over a mountain stream as he strolls towards a gated country residence nestling behind rocks and surrounded by trees and shrubs, with distant mountainous peaks beyond, the other main side with a man in a straw hat and a companion with a bare head, the two seated in a covered boat by the rocky banks of an expanse of water, with pines, other trees, and shrubbery, and a distant residence among the mountainous peaks, the panels contained within an elaborate border of formalized design based mainly on the lingzhi; the shoulders with two sinuous chi dragons chasing each other’s tails, but with a formalized flower head set between mouth and tail on each main side; the neck with a band of formalized floral design; the upper-neck rim with a band of double-unit leiwen (thunder pattern); the foot with a band of angular, formalized waves, the foot inscribed in seal script Kō-shin (or Kō- sei), the surfaces all stained yellowish-brown
Kō-shin (or Kō-sei), Japan, 1854–1920
Height: 7.55 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.69/1.83 cm
Stopper: ivory, carved with a formalized floral design; red and brown lacquer finial with inset seed-pearl; possibly original

Sotheby’s, London, 3 December 1997, lot 546

Treasury 7, no. 1696

Kō- shin (or Kō- sei) is another of the ivory carvers working in Japan in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century who, at least on this occasion, signed his own name. As yet, however, no other bottles have been recorded by him, nor have we been able to track him down. Interestingly, although the name does exist as a (rare) Japanese given name, the characters also mean ‘Revive the Qing’. In China, they were part of the Boxer slogan ‘Revive the Qing and Obliterate the Western’ (Xing Qing mie yang), and in Japan they figure in the title of a two-part article (appearing about the same time as the Boxer movement) in which nationalist Uchida Ryō-hei (1874–1937) warned that Russian was a threat to all of East Asia as long as China was weak: ‘Strategy to Revive the Qing’ (Kō-Shin saku). It is doubtful that the inscription on this snuff bottle has any political significance, but it is an intriguing possibility.

Although the subject matter is a typically Chinese idea, taken from the literati painting tradition, the depiction might be considered Japanese just because the surface of the water is partly plain and partly covered in formalized waves. This suggests the realistic effect of wind gusting across a still body of water, which is found in Chinese paintings, but hardly in so formalized a manner. When used in Chinese carving, such fish-scale waves tend to be continuous, whereas discontinuous formalized designs are typical of nineteenth-century Japanese art. This same Japanese way of indicating water is also found on the bottle by Kenkoku, Sale 3, lot 131. But without that, of course, and even ignoring the typically Japanese signature, there are other clear indications of the bottle’s origin. The borders are totally unlike anything in Chinese art, with the distinctly odd array of asymmetrical, formalized lingzhi designs joined together somewhat haphazardly, partly metamorphosing into more cloud-like forms. The dragons around the shoulders are also un-Chinese looking, with their open mouths and strange, curly lips, and four legs that look like they have been made of cooked noodles. The stopper is certainly Japanese and contemporaneous with the bottle, but the fact that it is very slightly smaller than the neck may indicate it has come off another Japanese ivory bottle of the period. It is possibly the original and just an odd fit, as smaller stoppers are fairly standard on this group of bottles, but they are usually emphatically smaller, not just missing by less than a millimetre, and they do not, as a rule, have straight-sided integral collars when smaller.

As with so many of the Japanese group of bottles, the carving is spectacular, but it comes from a culture that had spent the previous three centuries creating astonishing miniature arts in a wide range of materials (netsuke, ojime, okimono, and so on), and impeccable carving was standard. Only with the more blatant tourist art from the first half of the twentieth century did standards begin to fall below what the Japanese would have deemed acceptable for their own arts.


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=1705&exhibition=12&ee_lang=eng


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