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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 59 

Lot 59

Lot 59
Treasury 3, no. 393 (‘The Southern Dragons Inkstone’)

Shale; reasonably well hollowed, with a concave lip and shallowly recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat foot rim; carved in low relief on one side with a circular panel containing three highly stylized kui dragons forming the character long 龍 and on the other with two dragons in formalized clouds, the narrow sides with mask-and-ring handles
Probably imperial, attributable to Guangdong province, probably Guangzhou, 1736 – 1830
Height: 5.61 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.6/1.54 cm
Stopper: coral; silver collar

Hugh M. Moss Ltd (1993)

Kleiner 1995, no. 289
Treasury 3, no. 393

British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

There is a series of apparently imperial Duanstone snuff bottles made during the Qianlong period and possibly thereafter. The decoration varies but can include the well-known couplet praising Duanstone (see Sale 6, lot 199) and both the subjects here, scaly dragons in clouds on one side and a group of highly stylized kui dragons forming the character long (‘dragon’) on the other.

Many of them also have these distinctive mask handles where the beast appears to be wearing a Chinese hat (see discussion under no. 84, Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993).

These strange handles probably represent a local artistic twist on a repetitive detail. The style of the dragons is also not a courtly style; it is found on a range of inkstones of the same Duan material and it probably represents a local style.

Although the number of claws on these distinctive dragons is sometimes hard to read, some have an unambiguous set of four, such as Sale 6, lot 199, which proves that some at least were not made for the imperial family to use but to be distributed among those granted the right to wear the dragon, but not the five-clawed imperial version.

In the Ault Collection (Kleiner 1990, no. 20) there is a Qianlong glass bottle that has these same distinctive dragons on one side. Here we appear to have a case of the glass being inspired by the Duan versions. It seems unlikely that the Duan style was patterned on a court model, because in such a case we would see many more repetitions of the same composition; in addition, Duan-style dragons are found on inkstones and other wares, suggesting that they did not spring from an imperial order in one type of article but from local preferences that applied wherever dragons were to be carved.

For other examples, see the commentary to this bottle in Treasury 3.

This example is standard for the group but in better condition than many, so we can see the crispness of the original workmanship. Because the material is soft, one reason for its suitability for inkstones, many have been quite considerably smoothed at the surface through handling. Although Duan Stream produced other colours of stone, this deep purplish-brown was one of the most characteristic materials of the mines.


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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