Lot 76 Lot 76 Lot 77 Lot 77 Lot 77 Lot 77 Lot 77

photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 77 

Lot 77

   

Lot 77
Treasury 6, no. 1081
HK$4,200,000

Floral Abundance

Famille rose enamels on copper, with gold; with a flat lip and concave foot surrounded by a barely protruding flat footrim; painted with a continuous millefleurs design including peonies, camellias, pear blossom, convolvulus, chrysanthemums, orchids, hydrangeas, irises, hibiscus, asters, and lilies, some with leaves, the neck with formalized floral designs, with another around the base; the foot inscribed in blue regular script Qianlong nian zhi (Made during the Qianlong period); the interior covered with an extremely patchy, misfired, turquoise-blue enamel, the exposed metal gilt
Imperial, palace workshops, Beijing, 1736–1770
Height: 5.27 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.80/1.25 cm
Stopper: gilt bronze, chased with a formalized floral design; probably original 

Lot 77 Provenance:
Martin Schoen
Belle Schoen
White Wings Collection (1993)

Published:
Perry 1960, p. 145, fig 154
JICSBS, Winter 1993, p. 10, fig. 10
Kleiner 1994a, plate 3, lower-right
JICSBS, Summer 1995, p. 35, no. 2
Kleiner 1995, no. 9, and dust-jacket
Kleiner 1997,no. 2
Curtis 1999, p. 79, fig. 6
Treasury 6, no. 1081

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

Lot 77 Commentary:
Flowers have always carried auspicious meaning in China, and were standard decoration in the arts long before the Qing dynasty. A profusion of flowers can be found in pre-Qing paintings and on ceramics, among many other art forms. The millefleurs pattern consisting of nothing but flowers, however, while it may find its origins in ancient China, seems to owe its popularity in the Qing period to the influence of European subject matter. European enamels from France and Italy were among the many gifts received by the Chinese court from the seventeenth century onwards, dispensed freely in an attempt to gain access to the highest levels of power on behalf of Christianity and diplomacy. It was these enamels that first inspired the Kangxi emperor to set up workshops at the palace to produce painted enamels on metal and glass and that also informed the decoration on many of them. They also inspired the early workshops in Guangzhou, where many of the gifts and most of the enamellers from Europe passed through on their way to Beijing. One only has to look at seventeenth-century European enamels to discover the reason for the sudden surge in popularity of the millefleurs design among Chinese enamellers (see, for instance, Garner 1969, plates 2 and 3). The works of Jacques Laudin (circa 1627–1695), the Limoges enameller whose works were copied at Jingdezhen in the Kangxi period, provide an excellent example. There is a two-handled saucer by him or his son (inconveniently, both went under the same name and used the same initials to sign their works) in the Musée de Louvre (Hong Kong Museum of Art and Musée Guimet 1997, no. 123). It is decorated with brightly coloured flowers on a white ground, and could easily have inspired the sort of design we see in Treasury 6, no. 1073. One only has to substitute auspicious Chinese flowers for those of France and allow for individual style in two different artists on opposite sides of the world to discern their underlying similarity.

The present example is one of the most spectacular millefleurs designs known in Qing art and is unique among snuff bottles for its extraordinary artistry and skill. The profusion of blooms piled one on another with only a few green leaves as relief manages to avoid both confusion and a sense of excess, despite the wide range of flowers depicted. It is a difficult task, managed with astonishing compositional grace and, for the snuff-bottle world, the tour-de-force of the subject. We know that such designs were made early in the Qianlong reign. In 1737 (tenth month, eleventh day) records relating to the enamel workshop show the completion of two snuff bottles for presentation to the emperor, one of which is described as being decorated with a Baihua xianrui (One hundred auspicious flowers) design. It may have been such a bottle as this. 

As always in Chinese art, the design was intended to be read for its symbolic meaning as well as enjoyed visually, and the various flowers all carry their own meaning, but here there are so many that we are willing to pass over this and stick to the overriding symbolism of splendour and prosperity.

There is a useful lesson for collectors to be learned from the recent history of this bottle. The collection of the legendary collector Martin Schoen passed at his death to the stewardship of his daughter Belle. Many bottles were disposed of over the years; Treasury 6, no. 1079, for example, went to Paul Bernat, another famous American collector (though of a wider range of enamelled wares). The snuff-bottle world rather lost track of the Schoen family and his bottles until Joseph Silver discovered that some of the finest still remained with his daughter. He went to visit her and pulled off one of the great recent coups among snuff-bottle collectors by buying, among other bottles, the stunning black ground, enamelled glass bottle that ended up in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 184). Typically over-the-top, the proud new owner, at the convention of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society immediately following his coup, displayed his treasures in a rented cabinet flanked by two strapping young security guards – also rented, but this time from the Israeli Army. At the time of Silver’s triumph, this bottle was also available, but he turned it down because it had small areas of enamel missing, the result of being dropped at some stage. When the late Bob Kleiner, Robert’s father, got wind of the story and learned that Silver had left a major enamel behind, he flew straight to New York to see Belle Schoen and bought it. Subsequently invisibly restored, it is one of those works of art that is so exceptional that a little damage makes no difference at all to its overall appeal. The bottle is unique; no alternative perfect example could be found to lessen its reputation, and its value as a work of art remains, therefore, undiminished. Enamels on metal are particularly vulnerable to damage, since the fragile glassy surface is not particularly compatible with the metal ground, and any severe blow is almost certain to cause a flake of enamel to come away from the metal. A significant proportion of palace enamels on metal have small chips and flakes that have been restored, and if the restoration is sensitive and in no way mars the original visual appeal, it is quite acceptable and can be safely ignored in artistic terms. Today, only an optimist willing to settle for a very small collection would begin to collect imperial enamelled metal snuff bottles with a zero-restoration policy. 

Many of the finest palace enamelled metal snuff bottles have a slightly recessed foot, as discussed under the next entry, Treasury 6, no. 1082. This is an extreme example of the phenomenon, the foot being almost on the same plane as the footrim.

 

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Hugh Moss |