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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part X  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 1 June 2015: Lot 36 

Lot 36

Lot 36
Treasury 5, no. 1020 (‘Li’s Link ‘)
HK$200,000

Transparent ruby-red glass and translucent streaky-white glass, the former with a few scattered air bubbles of various sizes; with a flat lip and recessed convex foot surrounded by a protruding flattened foot rim; carved as a single overlay with some carving in the ground colour, with a continuous design of the Eastern Sea, represented by formalized waves, with, on one main side, three bats flying around a perforated rocky outcrop rising from the water, inscribed in relief seal script Shoushan fuhai 壽山福海 (‘Life as everlasting as the mountains; happiness vast as the sea’), and on the other with a crane holding a tally in its beak and flying above the waves with the rising sun in the distance, the narrow sides with mask-and-ring handles
Probably Yangzhou, 1800-1840
Height: 5.86 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.72/1.48 cm
Stopper: jadeite; vinyl collar

Provenance:
Sotheby’s, New York, 16 November 1989, lot 16

Published:
Arts of Asia, September-October 1990, p. 97, fig. 33
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994,no. 131
Treasury 5, no. 1020

Exhibited:
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March-June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994-February 1995

Of the same subject as Sale 4, lot 44, lot 197 in this auction, and Sale 4, lot 115, there can be no doubt that this one relates more closely to the lower-relief, painterly style of the school. This is evident from the use of ruby-red—rare on the higher-relief group—as well as the more lively depiction of the bats and the subtlety of the overall conception, which is much closer to the painterly style.

It also has mask-and-ring handles which are absent from the core bottles of the multiple-overlay group but are often found on the lower-relief group (although they still represent the exception to the rule on anything but the standard, almost rectangular form, where they are more common).

The rock rising from the ocean is an intriguing feature, for while it seems to relate wholly to the painterly style, it retains a hint of the style of the multiple-overlay group. The style here is more fluent, however, demonstrating the greater conviction we might expect of a bottle upon which the bats are far more realistic and dynamic. The three-dimensional quality of the convoluted rock is defined principally by lines and indentations, with groups of short, slightly curving lines used to add texture to the plainer surfaces.

Rocks on carvings that bear the name of Li Yunting 李均亭/李韻亭 or that seem to have come from the same Yangzhou glassworks as the Yunting bottles are nearly always of a distinctly different style, being generally more akin to the classic convoluted and perforated rocks beloved of the literati. They are more subtly shaped, without engraved lines texturing the surface. For typical examples of Li’s rockwork-style, see Sale 2, lot 73 (1881); Sale 3, lot 16; Sale 4, lot 3 (1880, with the seal Yunting 均亭); Sale 5, lot 122 (1881); and Sale 8, lots 1023 (probably made for a Dai Wencan 戴文燦, who died in 1848) and 1123. This workshop seems to use such texturing incisions on depictions of rocky ground, rather than for natural rock-sculptures (Sale 6, lot 214, and Sale 9, lot 140, for example). This example may represent the early work of the school, before it developed its mature rock-carving style—as may all the multiple-overlay carvings and their kin, although we cannot be entirely sure that this Yangzhou workshop was responsible for all of them.

Yunting was the courtesy name of Li Peisong 李培松, who moved from his native Dantu to Yangzhou around 1870 and had several glass-overlay snuff bottles made bearing dates from 1877 to 1881, as well as some undated bottles. For details on Li and his brother, who also had glass snuff bottles made for himself, see Moss and Sargent 2011.

If our supposition about Sale 8, lot 1023 is correct, and that bottle was in fact made for a man who died thirty years before the Li brothers are likely to have patronized a Yangzhou glassworks, the Yangzhou school demonstrated a respectable longevity. Perhaps ‘renaissance’ would be the more appropriate term, for in that interval Yangzhou experienced waves of destruction at the hands of both the Taiping rebels and the imperial forces. The horror lasted for eleven years, from 1853 to 1864, and it is impossible to imagine that a glassworks could have kept operating amid the violence, fires, and disease that led to the near depopulation of the city. Exactly how long the industry would have shut down, however, is hard to gauge.

The mask handles are typical of this school. For an example with mask-and-ring handles that may have been made for either a Suzhou bibliophile who died in 1851 or for a Yangzhou resident who died in 1883, see Sale 2, lot 84.

Another feature of this bottle is the excellent matching of the overlay colour to the foot rim. An additional element here, provided by the nature of the white ground, was probably fortuitous. If it is intentional, it demonstrates a remarkable level of genius. The white glass contains swirled ribbons of chalkier colour that lend an extraordinary and effective additional dimension to the scene, providing the flying creatures with a dynamic environment of swirling early morning mist.

 

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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Hugh Moss |