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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 70 

Lot 70

Lot 70
Treasury 2, no. 325 (‘The Ink-play Master’s Ancient Pine’)

Dendritic chalcedony; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim; carved with a continuous partially cameo design of a pine tree with a rock at its foot growing beside a sheer rock cliff
Cameo Ink-play Master, possibly imperial, 1780–1850
Height: 6.1 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.77/2.08 cm
Stopper: stained bone; stained bone collar

Jin Hing (1971)
Margaret Prescott Wise
Edgar and Roberta Wise (1995)
Robert Kleiner (1996)

Treasury 2, no. 325

Stylistically this is unquestionably from the Cameo Ink-play Master, and it combines his choice of challenging, multi-coloured agate with extraordinary interpretation of the natural markings, even though it falls slightly short of his masterpieces, both artistically and technically. It shares that dubious distinction with Sale 2, lot 131, which bears the fifth Prince Ding’s hall mark; it is also, by comparison with his masterworks, just a peg or two down in the ratings. It is worth remembering, however, that this carver can come a long way down the ratings from his best before he even begins to be less than impressive.

Where this one falls down slightly is in the detailing of the foot rim (although the Prince Ding version has a superbly controlled foot rim) and in a rather strange interpretation for the vertical rock face and a horizontal flaw that runs off it at right-angles half way down. The rock face itself might simply be an artistic choice, representing re-acquired naïveté. It is certainly confident enough, although the series of diagonal incisions is much more abstract than one would expect and less than comfortable pictorially. The horizontal flaw, however, seems almost careless, as if very little artistic thought had gone into it all.

Certainly the rest of the interpretation is brilliant and thoroughly convincing, both pictorially and artistically. The ink-play of the rock and tree trunk is masterly, using the darker material as only part of the trunk of the ancient pine, the rest being carved in relief from the ground colour, to match exactly the pictorial representation one would expect on paper, where dark and light brush strokes are mixed to give the impression of a gnarled old tree riven with fissures. A branch that emerges from near the foot of the tree and cuts across the lower trunk is also brilliantly conceived, using some dendritic material to represent accretions of moss on the bare, dead branch. The clusters of pine needles are also masterly, with some in a fading dark colour, some in a pale yellow tone, and some from the ground colour, the last being an extraordinary touch of ink-play that would never have occurred to the standard chalcedony carver doing a pine tree. It perfectly integrates the yellowish tinge in the stone at the neck into the tree, leaving it as undefined foliage and allowing some natural dendritic markings that wrap around the neck to be read as more distant foliage, giving it much greater depth than it would otherwise have. It is certainly one of the more impressive pine trees in the medium and more than makes up for the slight problem with the foot and quibbles over the interpretation of the cliff face.


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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