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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1074 

Lot 1074
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Lot 1074
Treasury 6, no. 1281 (‘Classical Education’)

Crackled, colourless glaze on cobalt on beige porcelain; with a very slightly convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a flattened foot rim; painted under the glaze with a continuous design of a scholar seated at a desk in his studio supervising the education of five young boys, two of whom stand to his right holding books or sheets of paper, two of whom sit reading at another table further to his right, with the fifth standing in front of the scholar’s desk and perhaps passing along his instructions to the others, the backdrop alternating between garden scenes, random styles of door panels, the interior view of another room, and what might be a partly open window lattice, the foreground punctuated by groups of rocks with vegetation growing from behind them, including in one case what may be peonies; the foot painted with a formalized shou 壽 (‘longevity’) character; the lip, inner neck, and interior glazed
Jingdezhen, 1810–1850
Height: 3.99 cm
Mouth/lip: 1.45/2.32 cm
Stopper: glass; glass collar

Canadian collection
Sotheby’s New York, 17 March 1997, lot 432
Robert Kleiner (1997)

Treasury 6, no. 1281

It is extremely unlikely that porcelain snuff bottles made for a popular market during the latter part of the Qing period would have been made as one-off designs. The ceramic industry at Jingdezhen was set up for mass production, and once something was designed, it would have been made in series (although not usually in sets, as were made for the court) until it no longer commanded a market. Although this may seem a rare model now, at the time many more would have been made. Others are known with the same design and only minor variations in detail. Given the delicacy of porcelain and the fact that these objects were handled and passed around regularly, attrition over time would have been significant; we should expect that if three or four survive today, then possibly dozens might have been made originally.

Here we see what we believe is typically Daoguang painting style, in this case on the specially prepared beige porcelain ground known as huashi 滑石. It is in the late-Qianlong era that wide mouths first began to appear, judging by one extant blue-and-white bottle with five-clawed dragons from the late Qianlong period that has a wide mouth (Hall 1993, no. 11), but the innovation would logically have become more popular, with still wider mouths, when the fashion for scenting snuff overnight with flower petals took hold, which was probably at some time in the first decade or two of the nineteenth century. This fashion may have been sustained for a while before losing steam, but the production of wide mouthed bottles becomes more sporadic in the second half of the nineteenth century, probably maintained only to service a dying breed of die-hard enthusiasts too old or too obstinate to follow the newer trends in snuffing into unfamiliar territory.

In Treasury 6, our commentary on this snuff bottle cited Zhou Jixu’s 周繼煦 late-nineteenth-century remarks on mouth sizes. For some reason, we thought he had ascribed the trend for large mouths to the Daoguang era, but in fact the relevant passage in his Yonglu xianjie pingyu 勇盧閒詰評語 does not mention any time frame. Here, for the record, is the relevant paragraph from the Suxiangshi congshu 粟香室叢書 edition (1886 – 1887):

For the most part, bottles for scenting snuff have large mouths. In the evening one removes the stopper and uses fragrant flowers to stuff the mouth. They are left overnight and then removed. The mouths on foreign bottles are smaller. The mouths that are really small, called ‘stick-incense mouths’, are presently very much out of favour.

The scene painted on this bottle is not coherent spatially or architecturally. The background seems to be an inventory of the elements one might find in various views at a fine residence, with no serious effort to articulate their relationships or even to put the same design on the panels on either side of a door; the foreground rocks and foliage are present simply to provide some kind of frame at the bottom of the picture.


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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