Lot 89 Lot 89 Lot 89 Lot 89 Lot 89 Lot 9 Lot 9

photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 89 

Lot 89

Lot 89
Treasury 7, no. 1689 (‘Beneath the Trees’)

Ivory; with a flat lip and protruding concave foot surrounded by a flat foot rim, the neck a separate piece joined to the shoulders; carved with some undercutting to depict a continuous garden scene in which on one main side a young woman stands holding a plate of finger citrons (Buddha’s-hand fruits) while a young boy in front of her leaps up towards a butterfly in flight, and on the other main side another woman stands with a vase containing a spray of three lingzhi, gazing down at young boy seated on the ground pointing towards her, while behind her stands a natural outcrop of rock serving as an incense table on which a covered tripod incense burner sits, the women, boys, and natural incense table floating against a ground of formalized diaper pattern that underlies the entire scene; the lower neck and base girdled each with a band of formalized petals; the foot inscribed in regular script, Qianlong 乾隆
Japan, 1854–1920
Height: 6.45 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.4/2.0 cm                       
Stopper: ivory and reddish-brown soapstone, carved with a radiating leaf or feather design’; green soapstone finial; original

Illustration: watercolour by Peter Suart

Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London (circa 1963)
Cyril Green
Sotheby’s, London, 28 October 1969, lot 67
Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1969)
Emily Byrne Curtis (1986)
Robert Kleiner (1986)

Chinese Snuff Bottles 2 (1965), p. 28, fig 5
Curtis 1982, no. 13
Kleiner 1987, no. 216
Treasury 7, no. 1689

Newark Museum, October–November 1982
Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987
1987 exhibition poster

This bottle has long been considered to be Japanese, primarily for two reasons. The first was that the two-character mark was unlikely for a genuine imperial product of the period, even though two-character Qianlong marks are known on genuine imperial wares of the late reign and occur on porcelain bottles, among other objects. The second was that the neck was separate, allowing easier access for hollowing. This, it was felt, did not occur on the Chinese versions, but it was a standard feature of some very obviously Japanese bottles, including most of those of the lacquer-reserve group with black, red, yellow-ochre, or other coloured lacquer on an ivory ground. These have long been accepted as Japanese. Another, related group of heavily carved, mostly large, coloured ivory bottles made in Japan also had separate necks as a standard feature.

The separate neck here allows for one of the narrowest mouths on any ivory snuff bottle, a mere 0.4 cm, prompting the maker to skip making a cork and just widen the shaft of the upper spoon a little to act as one.

Another telling feature on this and on some other Japanese bottles is the use of the diaper ground. This usage is ultimately derived from Chinese lacquer, where water, flat ground, and sky were traditionally carved with different diaper patterns, the water with a series of highly formalized waves, the ground with a floral diaper, and the sky with what can be interpreted as a version of leiwen (thunder pattern) resembling formalized clouds. (See lot 108 in this auction for all three bring used in the lacquer panels of the red-and-green side.) As a general rule, this vocabulary of patterns was standard for carved lacquer ware but not common in other media, so it would be unexpected to find it on an ivory carving in the first place.

More to the point, however, the Japanese artists misunderstood the system and used a single diaper design overall, one that was probably intended to be floral but it is so simplified as to be unidentifiable with any degree of confidence.


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


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=2224&exhibition=17&ee_lang=eng


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