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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 93 

Lot 93

Lot 93
Treasury 6, no. 1428 (‘The Dragon’s Final Fling’)

Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a convex lip and recessed concave foot surrounded by a protruding flattened foot rim; painted with a continuous design of two five-clawed imperial dragons, one clutching a flaming pearl, flying amidst formalized clouds and flames above formalized waves; the neck with a band of formalized flowers above a shoulder design of formalized pendant flower heads; the foot inscribed in iron-red regular script, Guangxu nian zhi 光緒年製 (‘Made in the Guangxu era’); the lip, inner neck, and interior glazed
Imperial, Jingdezhen, 1874–1908
Height: 6.4 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.60/1.12 cm
Stopper: Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain, painted with a formalized floral design; John Charlton, circa 1973

Private Hong Kong collection
M & C Gallery, Hong Kong, 2003
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd, 2003

Treasury 6, no. 1428

Regardless of the state of the imperial kilns in the Guangxu period, imperial wares were being produced in relatively large quantities again after the depredations of the Taiping rebellion. As a rule, large orders for a range of basic wares connected with the serving and eating of food and the decoration of various palaces, temples, and tombs accompanied the beginning of a new reign, and orders would be placed thereafter as needed. Whether snuff bottles would have been included in this initial order of basic wares is not so certain, but there was a continuing demand for them, and they were made in reasonable quantities during the reign: Guangxu imperial snuff bottles may not be as plentiful as those from the Daoguang reign, but far more have survive than from the previous two reigns of the Xianfeng and Tongzhi emperors put together. (This is hardly surprising, though, since imperial production was so savagely interrupted during those two reigns by the Taiping Rebellion.)

It is obvious from this bottle that, whether it was made at the imperial kilns or ordered from private kilns, the court was having no difficulty getting supplies of fine ceramics. Both the drawing and the enamelling are as fine here as on Daoguang enamelled wares.

There are some stylistic differences. One interesting feature is the fate of the band of formalized decoration around the shoulders. In the first half of the nineteenth century, on blue-and-white bottles the standard, formalized ruyi motif derived from the lingzhi gradually deteriorated until it was almost a meaningless pattern; by the beginning of the second half of the century it resembled a dangling cross with dots between and beneath it. On the present bottle, this corrupted, incomprehensible design seems to have metamorphosed into a border of flower heads and petals. The Guangxu enamellers, with their reclaimed pride in the production of fine porcelains, have made the old symbolism readable in a new form-whether the new form was a conscious innovation or the result of misunderstanding the original concept.

An indication that this may come from early in the reign is found in the writing of the reign mark. Although the calligrapher has tried his best to write the era name neatly, it is not fluently achieved, suggesting, perhaps, that he has not had much practise. In contrast, the characters nian zhi, which the mark writer would have been writing throughout his career regardless of the name of the reigning emperor, are far more fluently inscribed.


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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