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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1037 

Lot 1037
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Lot 1037
Treasury 1, no. 67 (‘The Bulbous Bamboo-Shoot Jade’)
HK$87,500

Nephrite; carved in the form of a bamboo shoot
1740–1860
Height: 5.76 cm
Mouth: 0.52 cm
Stopper: glass

Provenance:
Unrecorded early acquisition

Published:
Treasury 1, no. 67

This is a puzzling bottle in many respects, even to the point of being a rare exception to the rule of recorded provenance. The Blochs began to collect snuff bottles in the late 1970s but did not immediately institute a system for recording every purchase. This bottle was among their earliest acquisitions. Many of these have since been culled, so the collection as a whole exhibits a remarkably high level of documentation. Apart from the mysterious recent provenance of this bottle (George Bloch recalled only that it might have come from a Sotheby’s auction), it is also a mystery in terms of dating and original provenance.

As with Sale 1, lot 64, the mouth of this snuff bottle is on the only end wide enough to accommodate a mouth, which means that that the bottom of the bamboo shoot is the top of the bottle. The same is true of the unique Bloch set of magnolia-bud snuff bottles (Sale 6, lot 138).

A bamboo shoot is of varied colour as it sprouts from the ground; this and the finely ribbed protecting leaves that make up the outer shoot afford the carver of a bamboo-shoot form an ideal opportunity to either disguise or make positive use of otherwise unattractive flaws in the stone. Flawed nephrite was regularly used at court (and almost certainly elsewhere as well), encouraging the selection of this form when dealing with such material.

The bottle is not particularly well hollowed (although it is quite functional, allowing plenty of room for snuff), but the carving and design of the exterior detail are excellent. Each separate leaf is neatly edged with a narrow border, giving some textural variation to the formal lines that make up the leaves and adding considerable weight to the shape of each leaf as one of the principal formal elements of the design. The lines of the leaves are superbly carved with great confidence and, curving in their various different directions for each separate leaf, create a powerful and complex pattern to augment the formal abstraction of the leaves themselves. Each leaf is then varied at the tip with a curve to one side or the other, creating the third main formal element (other than the overall shape of the bottle), which makes the design so fascinating. As a treatment of this particular subject, it is of entirely different conception to Sale 6, lot 171, where all the leaves point in the same direction, towards the tip.


 

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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