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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 99 

Lot 99

Lot 99
Treasury 7, no. 1684 (‘A Gathering of Women’)

Ivory, gold pigment, and cinnabar-red, green, and yellow-ochre lacquer; with a flat lip and a recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim; the ivory bottle inset on each main side with a three-colour lacquer panel with red on a yellow-ochre ground with an intervening green layer in some places, one side with a standing woman attended by two female servants with long feather fans being greeted by another woman kneeling in front of her and offering her a case of books, with rocks and a mature pine tree behind them, the flat foreground carved with a formalized floral diaper, the background carved with a formalized wave diaper indicating water, with a formalized cloud diaper above, the other panel with a scene of three women in a garden setting, with rocks, a plantain, and a mature pine tree and other foliage, one seated on the ground holding a leaf-shaped fan and looking at another, who leans against a low table looking at a scroll she unrolls in her hands, while the third stands behind them, the table set with a vase of flowers and two more scrolls, both panels framed in lacquer within a beaded frame in the ivory bottle itself, which is carved with two five-clawed imperial dragons and precious objects (two flaming pearls, three brocaded balls, and an ingot) amidst formalized clouds on a formalized wave ground; the neck with a band of formalized lotus petals; the outer foot rim also with a band of formalized petals, the ivory once decorated with gilt detail; the foot inscribed in seal script, Qianlong nian zhi 乾隆年製 (‘Made in the Qianlong era’), also filled with gold
School of the Imperial Master, Japan, 1854–1910                 
Height: 6.1 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.78/1.50 cm
Stopper: red, black, and various shades of dark green lacquer, layered and carved as a formalized flower head; ivory collar; original

Eric Hancock Collection (circa 1965)
Hugh Moss (1978)
Belfort Collection (1986)

Chinese Snuff Bottles 2 (1965), p. 18, Plate D               
JICSBS, March 1979, front cover
Jutheau 1980, p. 132 (the image reversed)
JICSBS, June 1981, p. 29, fig. 2 (the image reversed)
Très précieuses tabatières chinoises 1982, p. 20, no. 229
Kleiner 1987, no. 212
Treasury 7, no. 1684

L’Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982
Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987

Evidence of the close stylistic link between the ivory and lacquer carving styles of the broader group represented by this bottle are suggested by the similarity between the dragons carved into the ivory here and those carved into the lacquer of Sale 7, lot 159. Both appear to have been carved by the same hands, allowing for the differences found in lacquer carving style.

The Imperial Master may have carved both the ivory examples and the lacquer and ivory examples himself or perhaps supervised a growing workshop that did the carving to produce a series of wares in his style. Whether he had his own lacquer-making facility or outsourced the manufacture of the lacquer blank to other workshops is not known.

Another possibility rests in the nature of the Maruki 丸喜 Company discussed under Sale 6, lot 237, where we see a single company employing various outside artists to produce wares for their clients. It is possible that our Imperial Master was a group of several artists employed by a supervising agent of some kind and working in a similar style. It may be impossible to ever find out.

An intriguing aspect of Japanese production is that, even when the artists sign with Japanese names, they are rarely recorded among the known artists and craftsmen of the period who were making wares for a Japanese market. It is almost as if the entire enterprise of producing ‘Chinese’ snuff bottles for a Western market was deliberately kept discreet; when Japanese names were used, even these were pseudonyms.

This bottle is in remarkably fine condition for the type. One problem with combining materials is that the coefficient of expansion can cause problems, sometimes putting pressure on the ivory to the point where it cracks. Ivory can crack in any case, regardless of the combination with other materials and, as with many organic substances, extremes of humidity or temperature should be avoided whenever possible.

This one has remained intact, although the gilding that originally decorated the ivory detail is now visible only in the engraved lines and where the carving is protected, as on the wave ground. It is likely that all the detail was initially gilt, and then the surface gilding was rubbed to give an appearance of age before it went out into the world, where it was further worn by the hands of dealers and collectors. In this case, the ivory around the panels, which are more exposed to the hand when holding it, exhibits the traces of a century of handling on top of any artificial wear the artist might have originally imposed.


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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