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The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1005 

Lot 1005
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Lot 1005
Treasury 7, nos. 1662 & 1663 (‘Fooling the Eye’)
HK$137,500

Glass, pearlized pigment, transparent blue, pale aubergine, and lime-green enamels, silver, bronze, and gold; a pair; with flat lips and no functional foot; the deliberately uneven glass bodies painted on the inside with a thick layer of pearlized pigment to resemble baroque pearls mounted with enamelled-silver shoulder mantles and gilt-bronze necks; the shoulder mantle with a design of two bands of formalized lingzhi separated by a plain band and with another plain band beneath the neck, all defined by raised, twisted, rope-like silver wires
Probably imperial, Guangzhou, 1750–1840
Heights: 6.25 and 5.96 cm
Mouths/lips: 0.43/1.56 and 0.51/1.50 cm
Stoppers: amber; gilt-bronze collar, and amethyst; gilt-bronze collar; possibly original

Provenance:
Robert Hall (1987)

Published:
Hall 1987, no. 51
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 78
JICSBS, Summer 1998, p. 15
Treasury 7, nos. 1662 & 1663

Exhibited:
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–January 1995

In Sale 1, lot 138 and Sale 3, lot 133, we saw a sampling of snuff bottles that one can only assume were made for the court, probably during the mid-Qing period. They are of various materials, with a range of shoulder mantles and necks in gold, enamelled metal, or gilt metal, and inlaid with either gemstones or glass imitations of them. Two other pearlized glass examples, of slightly different shape but with a similar neck and shoulder mantle, were in the Blücher Collection (Moss 1971a, p. 101, no. 165) and the Topper Collection (Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 3 May 1995, lot 504). Another, with an original stopper sporting an elaborate finial, was in Sotheby’s, London, 11 October 1971, lot 23. A more elaborately mounted pearlized glass bottle was in Christie’s, London, 7 June 1993, lot 205, where it was wrongly catalogued as a baroque pearl, only to reappear, wrongly catalogued as mother-of-pearl, at Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 1 November 1995, lot 894. It, too, comes from the same group. Two more were in Sotheby’s, New York, 22 March 2001, lot 253, and Christie’s, London, 14 June 1971, lot 162 (from the Ko Collection). One further bottle is obviously related and was in the J & J Collection (Sotheby’s, New York, 1 June 1994, lot 697, and Christie’s, New York, 22 March 2007, lot 84). The J & J example is also of pearlized glass; it is of vegetable form, but the separate neck is in the form of a calyx, tied around with a knotted cord, and is made of pale coral rather than embellished metal.
There are several indications that the series was made mostly at Guangzhou for the court. A great many imperial works of art were produced at this southern port for the court during the height of the Qing dynasty, from the Kangxi through to the early Daoguang reign. Transparent enamels, for example, may have been used at both Guangzhou and the palace workshops, but they are more typical of the former. (Sale 7, lot 16 is one example.) Some of the group have inlaid glass imitations of sapphires, emeralds, and rubies, which was a standard Guangzhou technique for decorating the large number of clocks made there for imperial use. The related pair of bottles, Sale 1, lot 138 and Sale 3, lot 133, are likely Guangzhou products, and one major clue perhaps lies in the shape of the necks of all four examples, all being made of well-gilded bronze and all widely flared or waisted.
Although the two stoppers are different in profile, they may be the originals. One of them is inset with brown amber, which is the material of the cabochons on the stoppers of Sale 1, lot 138 and Sale 3, lot 133. This is not a common material for stoppers with metal collars, since it was rather fragile to be used on something that was intended to be handled frequently and would undoubtedly be dropped from time to time. If these stoppers are the originals, the fact that they don’t match suggests that the two were part of a series, rather than a particular pair or set. On the other hand, with a pair of bottles, perhaps intended to contain different kinds of snuff, it would be useful to be able to tell which was which, and the obvious way would be to use different coloured cabochons in the stoppers.

The obvious intention here was to imitate baroque pearls. Pearls large enough to make snuff bottles are rare, though one must always acknowledge the famous one in the Oakland Museum collection, with its lovely jadeite embellishment turning it into an eggplant, and Sale 1, lot 138. To make glass imitations of pearls, however, was easy enough. The intention would not have been to fool anyone, certainly not the emperor or his empress, who were surrounded by the real things. Imitations were intended as clever trompe l’oeil to beguile the eye rather than cheat it. The idea was similar to imitations in ceramics of materials such as wood, bronze, marble, puddingstone, baskets, and so on.

One of these bottles has cracks in the glass, and from it we can see that the glass is extremely thin, certainly never intended to survive alone. The inner material is far more substantial than the glass, and may be several millimetres thick. For some reason, it was felt that a combination of glass no more than 1 mm thick with a pearlized back and a substantial inner layer of some sort of creamy-white composition would best imitate a pearl. The inner material was also obviously intended to provide the main strength to the fragile coating of glass.

 

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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