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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 41 

Lot 41

Lot 41
Treasury 7, no. 1594 (‘The Rough and the Smooth’)
HK$100,000

Transparent orange-brown amber with some darker brown and ochre colouring, the exterior surface finely crizzled; carved in the form of an irregularly shaped double gourd, its surface with a branch bearing four smaller double gourds, leaves, and tendrils, with a bat and a dragon-fly both in flight, the interior roughly hollowed
1740–1820
Height: 8 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.94/1.55 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Provenance:
Regency, New York (1978)
Gerd Lester (1986)

Published:
Kleiner 1987, no. 206
Treasury 7, no. 1594

Exhibited:
Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

Like Sale 1, lot 113, this has an affinity with a series of mostly nephrite naturalistic snuff bottles probably produced at or for the court in the mid-Qing period. In this case, we have a close parallel in form and decoration as well as in naturalism and style. Magically transformed into white nephrite, this bottle would fit perfectly into this presumed imperial production, suggesting its likely origin. If we resist a specific palace attribution, it is not because we don’t think it likely, but because we don’t know where to draw the line in such attributions. If a considerable proportion, and perhaps the majority, of all fine snuff bottles from the early phase of snuff taking were made at or for the court, such a heuristic attribution would be right more often than not, but we are not yet in a position to confidently differentiate between imperial products of the time and other northern wares produced in response to imperial fashion in snuff-bottle manufacture.

There is an unusual type of dissonance between the interior and exterior walls here, one that is relatively rare in a transparent material. Although the carving of the exterior is of the usual high standard expected of courtly naturalistic bottles of this design, and the final polishing has been exquisitely achieved, the interior hollowing, while capacious and following the contours of the outer shape, has been left very rough indeed, even leaving the gouge marks of the initial hollowing process visible. No attempt was been made to polish it at all, which can only be a deliberate choice in the context of so masterly a carving. Perhaps the aim was to enable the golden sparkling caused by light reflecting off the rough surface as the bottle is turned in the hand and the smoothness of the exterior to set each other off to advantage.

This bottle may have had an original stopper in amber. Although rare, enough such stoppers have survived on naturalistic forms in both amber and nephrite to suggest that, if not always present, they were at least an option. In this case, the branch curling down from the lip is in relief, however slight, at the lip. This may suggest that originally a matching stopper in the same material continued the design to the end of the severed branch. That is certainly the case in the few examples that have retained their original matching stopper.

 

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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