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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 23 

Lot 23

Lot 23
Treasury7, no. 1521 (‘Smooth as Silk’)

Variegated black and brown lacquer on textile; with a convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; covered inside and out with lacquer 1800–1900
Height: 7.59 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.88/1.34 cm
Stopper: bone and black lacquer; probably original

Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1993)

Treasury 7, no. 1521

Lacquer is made from the resin of various trees, but predominant among them is Rhus verniciflua (Rhus vernicifera). It has been used to produce artworks in China since the Bronze Age and can be employed as a coloured or colourless protective or decorative layer, coloured with various chemical agents to be used like paint, or built up into a solid mass and carved.

Light-weight lacquer wares from Fuzhou and Yangzhou were typically made on a fabric ground (see, for example, Sale 2, lot 118Sale 5, lot 46, and lot 169 in the present auction). In the mid Qing, silk was used for this purpose, but hemp was the standard material, and the texture of the weave visible on the inside of this bottle is clearly more coarse than woven silk. One name given to this type of ware was jiazhu (sandwiched hemp) but it was also known as tuotai (removed core) because the process involved a clay form that was removed once its support was no longer needed. 

There is nothing about this shape that tells us which lacquer centre may have produced this snuff bottle.The inspiration appears to be the typical cylindrical porcelain bottles so common during the nineteenth century. That is, however, very much a ceramic form, and examples are much rarer in other materials. 

As so often, what appears to be jet black is revealed to be a variegated black and brown that is, in this case, subtly marbled, as if layers had been unevenly applied one over the other, after which polishing and smoothing of the surface revealed parts of several layers. It makes for a fascinating visual texture, once one notices that the surface is not an overall, dull black colour.

The stopper is a nineteenth-century type and has an original spoon of exactly the correct length for the bottle; it suits the bottle so well and fits so perfectly that we are tempted to believe it is the original.


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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