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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part IX  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014: Lot 23 

Lot 23

Lot 23
Treasury 7, no. 1628 (‘Southern Outing’)
HK$31,250

Silver; with a flat lip and recessed, slightly convex, foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim; repoussé and chased with a continuous scene of scholars and officials greeting each other in a garden setting with an elaborate two-story gateway to a private residence or temple compound surrounded by a wall, with a pine tree, another leafy tree, a plantain, ornamental rocks, and other foliage, in which one scholar, holding a fly whisk and attended by a servant holding what may be intended as his official audience-tablet (hu 笏), is greeted by a bowing official, a servant at his side holding a large leaf-shaped ceremonial fan over him while another stands nearby holding an official hat, with two more scholars in official costumes standing behind him, one with a folding fan pointing at the protagonists, the shoulders with a band of continuous leiwen (thunder pattern)
South China, 1840–1910
Height: 8.49 cm
Mouth/lip: 1.12/1.60 cm
Stopper: jadeite; silver collar

Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Provenance:
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1988)

Published:
Zhao Lihong 1996, p. 124, centre
Treasury 7, no. 1628

Although unmarked, which is unusual for southern Chinese silver ware, this fits comfortably into the range of export wares made mostly in the south during the late Qing dynasty (see under Sale 5, lot 48). Like Sale 5, lot 48, it has been initially beaten from the reverse side and subsequently chased. There is very obviously only one join, however, so a sheet of silver must have been bent around to form the main body, which implies that the sheet of metal had its main design formed first and was then wrapped around on itself and joined vertically. The neck, base, and foot rim were added afterwards.

This has had considerable wear, suggesting that it might have remained in use in China rather than being exported to cabinet life in the West. It is possible that an export silver maker diverted this bottle for his own use (thus feeling no need to add his self-proclaiming shop mark to it). The wear could also be explained by a foreign snuff taker choosing to use the snuff bottle rather than a box, perhaps as an exotic fashion statement to impress his friends at home.

However, if we were to have a bottle of the same shape and design (differing only in minor details) that was similarly worn, suggesting that both were put to considerable use over the years—even though it is true that the state of wear on an individual bottle is not necessarily a reliable guide to age, particularly with a soft material like silver—this would be an indication that both bottles had stayed in China. It happens that just such a bottle is known from the Kaynes-Klitz Collection (Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 16 November 1989, lot 71). Quite apart from shape and style of the two, the scene is so similar that it can only have come from the same design and probably from the same hand.

Another reason for believing that both were for a Chinese market is the subject matter. The scene seems to illustrate the arrival of a scholar to be invested as an official, since as he is being greeted a servant holds an official court hat, presumably to present to him. This is the sort of subject that would be meaningful to a Chinese audience, but probably lost on a Western one. It was perhaps made as a gift for a successful scholar who was to be made an official.

A study of other export silver ware suggests that this bottle dates from the latter part of the Qing dynasty, despite the extent of the wear. There is, for instance, a presentation cup made in Shanghai in about 1869 that is of related style in the decoration (Sotheby’s, London, 18 April 1987, lot 207). Without any indication of the maker, our bottle could have been made at any of the southern export-silver centres (see under Sale 5, lot 48).

 

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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