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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1097 

Lot 1097
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Lot 1097
Treasury 2, no. 270 (‘The Old Friends Agate ‘)

Carnelian agate; very well hollowed; with a concave lip and recessed convex foot; the natural darker markings in the stone forming an entirely natural design of two figures seated on rocks gazing at the sky while a duck flies past
Official School, 1760–1880
Height: 5.2 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.8/2.3 cm
Stopper: tourmaline; glass finial; plastic collar

Watercolour by Peter Suart

Hugh M. Moss Ltd.
Paula J. Hallett
Sotheby’s, New York, 2 December 1985, lot 78

JICSBS, Autumn 1985, p. Iii
JICSBS, Summer 1986, front cover
Kleiner 1987, no. 156
Orientations, October 1987, p. 43, fig. 10
Arts of Asia, September–October 1990, p. 94,
Galeries Lafayette 1990, p. 10
Kleiner 1995,, no. 261
Treasury 2, no. 270

Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Galeries Lafayette, Paris, April 1990
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

This much-published and exhibited bottle is one of those rare bottles that have an evocative design achieved without compromising the surface integrity of the form. The main figure standing with his back to the viewer and gazing out across a lake or into a cloudy void is so well defined that one can read the stance without trouble, see the line of the left elbow beneath the robes and the hunch of the shoulders. Even the bulge of the right cheek, seen from behind, is perfectly formed in the natural image in the stone. From there onwards, it is very much open to interpretation. The brown striated markings around the base provide continuity as well as a ground for the figures and the rocks upon which they sit. On the reverse may be seen a delightful landscape scene of water and mist with a group of large boulders emerging form the waters. On the main group stands a country retreat, its thatched roof in some disrepair, the paler brown columns and wall plainly visible and a lighted window beneath the eaves, presumably the country retreat from which our scholars have strolled to enjoy the view. A rocky promontory above juts out from the spray of a waterfall or a bank of mist, and the waterfall becomes a stream tumbling through another group of boulders in the foreground.

Although impeccably formed and hollowed; this shape might be considered a trifle dumpy, seen independently of the powerfully evocative design inherent in the stone. It is not in its own right as elegant formally as some other examples, and yet the shape is ideally matched to the natural design. The boulders are all equally bulbous, the figures are amply built, and even the little cottage perched on the rocks seems to be fat and bulging.

It is interesting to note that in ceramic snuff bottles, which are so much easier to date precisely than hardstones, the compressed and flattened forms of the Qianlong and Jiaqing periods tended to give way to fatter, more bulbous forms during the Daoguang period. This may indicate a general taste for plumper, more capacious bottles. In view of the recessed convex foot, which we see as a less demanding option, it seems reasonable to see this as perhaps from the first half of the nineteenth century, although we have allowed a little more latitude in our dating to be on the safe side. The bottle was probably intended for distribution to meritorious officials, thereby earning our designation as an example of an ‘Official School’ snuff bottle.

Beneath the foot is some striated material with brilliant red colouring, allowing our designation ‘carnelian-agate.’ It is only a small area, however, and the brilliance of the red quickly fades out to a warm brown which is seen around the base of the bottle from both main sides.


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=1833&exhibition=13&ee_lang=eng


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