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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 44 

Lot 44

Lot 44
Treasury 2, no. 231 (‘The Ambivalent Pear Crystal’)

Crystal; well hollowed, with a flat lip and a flat rectangular foot
Height: 5.4 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.52/1.68 and 1.60 cm (oval)
Stopper: coral; pearl finial; turquoise collar

Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1985)

Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty 1978, p. 131 (top row, second from right)
Treasury 2, no. 231

Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–December 1978

There is nothing about the style and superb hollowing of this bottle that would be at odds with a palace provenance, and we believe the most likely period of production is the mid-Qing. Equally there is nothing that would not allow a provenance in the crystal workshops that supplied artists who painted inside snuff bottles at Beijing around the turn of the last century, hence our extended terminal date. This form is found painted inside in the 1890s and early 1900s by Ma Shaoxuan 馬少宣 and Ye Zhongsan 葉仲三, among others, and there is no way of knowing whether all of them were painted inside existing earlier bottles or whether such forms were still being made to high standards right at the end of the Qing dynasty. Here, however, our interest lies more in the further potential for varying basic forms than in the precise date of the bottle.

A pear-shape has been radically compressed, although still not completely flattened, since the two main sides retain a continuously curved surface. The narrow sides were flattened with a curving faceted surface terminating in a sharp angle where the narrower and broader surfaces meet. With the addition of a cylindrical neck, this allows for the subtle interplay of a number of different forms, all joining harmoniously. The artist has resolved the problem of joining these different shapes by minor adjustments where necessary.

The slim faceted surface is curved around the narrow sides and the foot like a strap, but where it meets the cylindrical neck the profile of the faceting flares to accommodate the greater width of the neck and two tiny, slightly curved triangular facets at the shoulders allow all three surfaces to come together comfortably. The side view also reveals that the body tapers towards the foot. If it did not, but kept to the same thickness from neck to foot, the form would be considerably clumsier and less elegant than it is from the narrow side profile.

The gently rounded, bubble-like shape of the interior, left very slightly roughened so as to accentuate it formally against the highly polished exterior surfaces, provides yet another shape variation for the artist to bring into balance. To what extent the rounded interior surface was governed by function rather than form can never be known, but it works extremely well formally. The practical rounded interior, which makes snuff easier to remove, offsets the more angled exterior profile, softening it and providing a contrast that strengthens both. Antithesis is a common creative tool in all the high arts.


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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