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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1030 

Lot 1030
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Lot 1030
Treasury 7, no. 1678 (‘Lotus Life’)

Ivory; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flattened foot rim; carved, with some undercutting, with a continuous scene of a lotus-filled lake and a rocky shore with tall outcrops and one perforated convoluted rock with, on one main side, a woman holding a rigid fan in the air as the boat in which she sits is propelled by a second woman holding a large oar at the stern while a woman stands on the bank to the lower right holding a lotus leaf on its stalk above her head, with a smaller female figure standing behind her, and on the other main side a woman seated in a similar boat in which gathered lotus have already been piled, holding a lotus leaf above her head and being navigated by another woman with an oar at the stern while, on the bank to the lower right, a bearded man stands facing the viewer, a servant behind him providing the shade of a parasol, with formalized clouds floating above; the foot inscribed in seal script, Qianlong nian zhi 乾隆年製 (Made in the Qianlong era)
Imperial Master, Japan, 1854–1910
Height: 5.66 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.59 cm
Stopper: ivory, of ‘official’s-hat’ shape, with integral finial and collar; possibly original

Lydia Tovey
Sotheby’s, London, 28 April 1987, lot 653

Kleiner 1987, no. 191
Treasury 7, no. 1678

Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987

This is a typically Japanese pastiche of a design taken from a Jiaqing moulded-porcelain snuff bottle, albeit a rather rare one. The mould survives in porcelain in Hughes 2002, no. 249, and in the Marquess of Exeter Collection (Chinese Snuff Bottles no. 6, p. 47, C.60). The original simply depicts two boats with women gathering lotus plants in a lake surrounded by rocky outcrops on one main side. The Imperial Master has developed his more complex scene from the porcelain original. Charming southern women gathering lotus are a time-honoured theme in Chinese poetry and art; perhaps it is this strong association between women in boats and the aquatic flower that accounts for the lotus on Sale 3, lot 24 (no lotus appear on the original of that scene). The Japanese carver has embraced the motif with gusto, which is typical of the rather loose but artistic response of the Imperial Master.

Another typical variation for the group is the broadening of the form to give a larger canvas for the expanded design. The carver appears to have borrowed various design elements from the porcelain originals and perhaps a few from other sources and then mixed them up, inventing his own combination. It is likely that the copies were quite accurate at first, but as the carvers continued and began to build up their repertoire of forms, and as they found out that the dealers through whom the bottles were retailed to the West were none too well informed as to iconographic accuracy, like any artist they began to enjoy themselves, becoming more inventive and creative, until, eventually, they began to produce entirely individual works with no recognizable reference to any Chinese original.

The oversized stopper might not be the original, but it is practical and easy to remove, even if it looks too large by Chinese standards. It also is perfectly matched in material. Given that eccentric shapes are not unexpected for this group, and keeping in mind that stoppers on bottles sold immediately to collectors are more likely to have remained with the bottles, we suspect this may be the original.


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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