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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1083 

Lot 1083
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Lot 1083
Treasury 7, no. 1688 (‘Playful Children’)

Cinnabar -red and black lacquer on brass; with a flat lip and slightly recessed foot surrounded by a protruding convex foot rim; carved with two layers of colour, black on red, to depict a continuous rocky landscape scene featuring, on one main side, a group of fifteen young boys playing in a waterside setting beneath formalized clouds, the grassy banks indicated by a formalized floral diaper design that extends onto the gangplank, with a more elaborate design used for the canopy of the boat, the water indicated by a repeated, formalized wave diaper, the other main side with Monk Budai 布袋 walking up to his shins in a lotus pond, holding his sack over his right shoulder and a long walking staff in his left hand as he plays with six children, the water indicated by a repeated formalized wave diaper pattern; the neck with a band of double-unit leiwen; the foot inscribed in regular script, Qianlong nian zhi 乾隆年製 (Made in the Qianlong era); the lip and (apparently) the interior, brass
School of the Imperial Master, Japan, 1854–1910
Height: 7.1 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.72/1.6 cm
Stopper: ivory with a coral finial

Claar Collection
Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, 12 May 1970, lot 519
Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1970)
Trojan Collection
Robert Hall (1993)

Stevens 1976, no. 753
Hall 1992, no. 73
Kleiner 1995, no. 355
JICSBS, Autumn, 1996, p. 5, fig. 4
Arts of Asia, September–October 2005, p. 115, fig. 4
Treasury 7, no. 1688

British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

It is difficult to see what the inside of this bottle is made from, but it is so similar to Sale 3, lot 86, which is of brass and has the same sort of lip, that it is probably of the same combination. The chances are, in any case, that the construction methods would remain constant throughout the group for lacquer products. We can also be certain that Sale 7, lot 159 has a metal interior, because it is visible through the tiny crack that has appeared between the lacquer bottle and the ivory panel.

As always, the carving here is spectacular, but the iconographic details are somewhat unusual, particularly in the depiction of Budai. In China, by the late Ming dynasty, a standard image of Budai was established: he tended to be depicted seated, leaning on his sack, with children (if present) playing around or even on him. If he is without the children, he is typically standing with his sack over his shoulder. This relaxed image of him strolling through a lotus pond, his walking staff held low and horizontal, seems to be a Japanese invention, although quite charming. Budai is worshipped in China as an incarnation of Maitreya, the future Buddha. (In Japan, where he is equally popular, his name is read Hotei.) He is also—as appropriate for his appearance on a snuff bottle—considered the patron of tobacco merchants.

As we pointed out under Sale 4, lot 10, the Imperial Master appears to have learned much of his style from copying moulded-porcelain bottles fairly precisely. The artist in him, however, soon encouraged his own variations on these designs and complete inventions of his own, incorporating more and more from Japanese artistic sources. Few of the lacquer bottles from the school owe much debt to the style of imperial moulded-porcelain bottles of the mid Qing. Another Japanese touch for this group of bottles is that houses and pavilions are frequently decorated with a distinctly Japanese-looking flaming pearl finial.

One final misunderstanding here is found in the use of the diaper ground for the waterside bank. The proper significance of the standard ground-diaper of highly formalized flowers has been lost as the pattern continues over the gangplank, which strictly speaking should have been depicted as planks or a solid board.

The consistently exquisite artistry of this group as a whole is obvious here in the lovely composition, the carving of the rocks, and particularly in the depiction of the magnificent ancient pines. The quality of the carving is augmented by the charming and unusual subject and by the rare use of a black lacquer relief plane on a red ground. Another by the Imperial Master with black on red is published in Lawrence 1996, no. 11 (also in JICSBS, Winter 1988, front cover). It is a colour combination derived from Chinese imperial originals (like this Ming tray from the National Palace Museum in Taiwan).


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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