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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1060 

Lot 1060
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Lot 1060
Treasury 1, no. 36 (‘Weeping Mermaids Jade’)

Nephrite; well hollowed, with a concave foot surrounded by a flat footrim; incised with branches of blossoming prunus and a line of poetry in cursive script: Yue han shen pu qi zhu pin月寒深浦泣珠頻(The moon is cold over the deep cove; tears of pearl quicken)
Height: 5.55 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.49/2.00 cm
Stopper: coral, carved with fruiting peach branches; vinyl collar

Eugene Sung (New York, 1993)

Kleiner 1995, no. 62
Treasury 1, no. 36

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

The poem from which the line engraved on this bottle is taken is the sixth of a set of nine regulated verses on the prunus by Gao Qi 高啟 (1336 – 1374). Some interpreters take the line as expressing the poet’s sorrow at being unable to find the plum blossoms, others mention the story of a greedy official in Hepu 合浦, a city on the Guangxi coast that was a centre for pearl harvesting: the pearls ‘went far away’ until the official was replaced. And of course there is the common belief that pearls were the tears of mermaids. Certainly some or all of this lore is hovering in the background, but in the context of this bottle it seems reasonable to take the pearls as fallen flower petals that float on the water, pearl-like tears that have dropped from the trees.

The pointed upper branch is carefully carved to conceal a flaw in the stone, which has become all but invisible because of the line of the branch. The other branch, falling from the neck, also follows the line of a strangely shaped patch of nephrite whiter than its surrounding matrix, which gives the prunus more vitality and allows the otherwise fairly even and very pleasing greenish-white stone to appear more pure and white than it otherwise would.

Formally this bottle is a delight, with its very small mouth (a feature found on jade bottles attributable to the palace workshops and other centres as well), perfect formal integrity, and an unusual foot of finely carved concave oval shape surrounded by a flat footrim. The hollowing is also excellent, reaching well down to the foot as opposed to stopping short as is common with at least one group of bottles attributable to the court (and probably intended for display and requiring the stability associated with a heavy base). It has been well worn through use, with the edges of the incising smoothed over through a good deal of handling. We have left a fairly lengthy possible period in the absence of more specific data, but if we had to make a guess as to the probable rather than possible period, we would place it in the Qianlong reign.


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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