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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VIII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 May 2014: Lot 1024 

Lot 1024
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Lot 1024
Treasury 6, no. 1401 (‘Daoist Access’)
HK$187,500

Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; moulded in the form of Hugong 葫公 leaning on a stick with his double gourd tied to his back by a sling over his right shoulder, the mouth of the gourd granting access to the bottle; the naturalistic base and the interior unglazed
Possibly Jinzhuo 進拙, Jingdezhen, 1830–1880
Height: 6.63 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.42/0.60 cm
Stopper: glass; silver collar

Provenance:
Gerry P. Mack
Sotheby’s, New York, 25 October 1997, lot 266

Published:
Treasury 6, no. 1401

Like so many moulded porcelain bottles, this is moulded in two parts, but the degree of surface carving may be greater than on the traditional moulded porcelain figures of Sale 1, lot 127; Sale 5, lot 117; and Sale 6, lots 107 and 268. This shift to what appears to be greater surface detail achieved by hand culminates in such masterpieces of the genre as Sale 5, lot 145, which is related in both the choice of the figure and the nature of the carved detail on the surface, even if not in its surface decoration, which is done here in enamels painted over a thin layer of glaze. The enamels appear to be typical of the late Qing; we suspect this may postdate the Daoguang period and represent the later evolution of figural snuff bottles, although it is possibly a Daoguang porcelain carver’s response to the moulded figures of the mid-Qing. Another similar model, also with famille rose enamels, is published in Hong Kong 1977, no.107, and a famille-verte enamelled version was in the Ko Collection (Christie’s, London, 14 June 1971, lot 85). One more, a less-detailed version but also with famille-verte enamels, is published in JICSBS, Autumn 1989, p. 1.

When we prepared Sale 5, lot 145 for auction, we were unable to read the second character of the signature on the bottom of that snuff bottle. That bottle is basically a monochrome bottle, but the similarities between it and the present bottle are strong enough to inspire us to make another attempt at deciphering the signature, just in case the same potter is responsible for both. After further investigation, we think the second character is an example of a variant of zhuo 拙 that has 火 on the left instead of 扌.Zhuo can be translated ‘clumsy’ or ‘inept’, but as a positive value it is best understood as the opposite of ‘slick’ or ‘smooth’; therefore, it can be good to be ‘inept’. Jinzhuo as a phrase is a humble expression referring to ‘putting forward incompetent [proposals]’, but it also occurs occasionally as a name, where it probably means something like ‘advancing in clumsiness’. Unfortunately, we have not found a potter or a likely patron who used this name.

The limited access to this bottle through the mouth of the gourd on the figure’s back is a bit impractical but probably justified by the fantasies it must have provoked about retreating into the gourd to find a limitless, alternative utopian realm. The subject is surely Hugong (Master of the Bottle). According to legend, Hugong sold medicinal herbs in the marketplace and healed many people. He often gave the money he had earned to the poor and destitute. He usually hung an empty bottle on a roof beam and jumped inside the container at night. A man named Fei Changfang 費長房 knew that Hugong must be an unusual man. One night, as soon as Hugong disappeared into the bottle, he also jumped inside. He thus found another world where the immortals resided in high towers and magnificent mansions. This may be read as a metaphor for the enlightenment experience of transcending the intellect (= mundane world) and grasping the undifferentiated, limitless realm of the Realized Man as a mental perspective.

 

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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