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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 18 

Lot 18

Lot 18
Treasury 6, no.1286 (‘Literati Lives’)

Colourless glaze on cobalt on porcelain, and crackled colourless glaze on cobalt on beige porcelain; with a convex lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a flared, reticulated, convex footrim; the shoulders with handles, pierced for cords, in the form of corrupted animal heads metamorphosed into insects; painted under the glaze on one main side with Wang Xizhi beneath a tree, his attendant walking towards him holding a goose under one arm, and on the other with a scholar seated on the ground leaning against a boulder in a landscape with a bare tree, his attendant carrying his qin; the foot and lip glazed; the interior unglazed
Jingdezhen, 1825–1850
Height: 5.65 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.50/1.22
Stoppers: gilt bronze chased with a formalized floral design, made from half a garment button, silver-gilt collar

Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1991)

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994,no. 174
Treasury 6, no. 1286

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

Just when we think we have formulated a handy little rule of thumb, comes something to confound it. We believe this bottle and lot 116 in the present auction can be dated to the Daoguang reign, perhaps even to its latter part, so both should be glazed inside; that is a trait of the vast majority of nineteenth-century porcelain bottles. The fact is, however, that while lot 116 is glazed inside, this one is not, proving that, as an exception, the late-Qianlong tradition of unglazed interiors on porcelain snuff bottles persisted, if only sporadically, into the mid-nineteenth century.

See lot 168 in the present auction for remarks on the form and dating of these bottles. Although this bottle and lot 116 share a common shape and design, they are not in any sense a pair, and only in a broad sense part of a series, since one is on the opaque beige porcelain ground designed to facilitate fine-line work with underglaze pigments, while the other is on standard translucent white porcelain.

These two bottles and their different porcelains present an ideal opportunity to see the effect of the beige porcelain on underglaze pigments. The beige porcelain obviously has advantages, but it does not seem to make the major difference in the mid nineteenth century that it probably would have made earlier, perhaps because the first half of the nineteenth century had seen improvements to the regular porcelain ground or a better understanding of how to control the wild and unpredictable nature of underglaze pigment. The line on the beige-porcelain example is sharper, as can be seen particularly on the side with Wang Xizhi and the goose, but the difference seems hardly worth the effort. We suspect that the beige porcelain, considered to be a more expensive material, may have been retained as an option only for the connoisseur. The delicate footrim is added separately and was not part of the original mould, which is why footrims differ so often on this series of bottles. They are sometimes just pierced and sometimes made up of a neat band of small, open oval shapes separating the body and the footrim, as in the present two examples (although thicker glaze on this one obscures this to some extent).

Wang Xizhi (321–379 or 303–361) was the pre-eminent calligrapher of the Eastern Jin period. It is reputed that he nurtured his artistic sense by observing the graceful movement of the neck of a goose.


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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