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photographer E-Yaji.
Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part II  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 23 November 2010: Lot 63 

Lot 63


Lot 63
Treasury 7, no. 1693

Spare Boat

Ivory and green pigment; with a wide mouth, flat lip, and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; carved and engraved with a continuous river gorge scene featuring pine, other trees, and shrubbery, simple dwellings on the foreground bank and temples in the mountains, two small boats, one with a figure seated in it, and formalized clouds swirling in and out of the hills on the distant shore; the foot inscribed in the upper half of a circular cartouche in seal script, Katon; stained overall, including the inside, with green pigment
Katon, Japan, 1854–1930
Height: 6.29 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.90/1.41 cm
Stopper: ivory; pearl finial; stained bone collar

Lot 63 Provenance:
Robert Kleiner (1996) 

Treasury 7, no. 1693

Lot 63 Commentary
The artist who goes by the name Katon was responsible for more bottles than any other individual Japanese snuff-bottle maker who signed his works. We dealt with him in Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993,under nos. 303–305 and 313, where the latter is an unusual cinnabar lacquer example. Most of his carvings are signed in seal script, where the second character is not always entirely clear, but one of the several carvings by him in the Drummond Collection in the American Museum of Natural History is signed in regular script, leaving us in no doubt about the characters. The second one is a rare character, but pronounced ton in Japanese.

There are some indications of Katon’s period of activity, though they lack any great precision. The three bottles in the J & J Collection were bought in Shanghai by Ambassador Li in 1945. There were plenty of opportunities for snuff bottles to migrate from Japan to the shops of Shanghai, whether they were imported by dealers or sold to the shops by private Japanese owners in need of cash. In 1915 there were 7,397 Japanese living in Shanghai; in 1920 they outnumbered the British by two to one (Glickman 2006, p. 84); and by 1945, of course, many thousands more had passed through. There are at least four bottles signed by Katon in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. One is a coloured ivory bottle in the form of a jar and cover (70.3.1957A; original number 91); one is coloured and decorated with luohan (70.3.1958A; 233); another has figures and an inscription, inspired by a Jiaqing porcelain bottle (70.3.1997A; 367), and the fourth is a rectangular bottle in red lacquer (70.3.1971A). They were acquired prior to 1931.

Katon’s range of materials, forms, and styles was unusually wide. His techniques included ivory carving, cinnabar lacquer carving, the use of other forms of lacquer, and embellishing. No. 1694 in the Bloch Collection is another example by him, and another copying a Ming ceramic (fahua) hu and cover is illustrated in JICSBS, Winter 1993, back cover. Several of his works were made as miniature vases rather than snuff bottles, but many of the early snuff-bottle collectors did not seem to mind much, as long as they were all much of a size and would fit comfortably together in a cabinet.

The unusual style of carving here highlights Katon’s diversity. He has used a shallow, sloping cut to leave areas in what appears to be prominent relief, although they are no higher than the rest of the surface plane; then he has added simple incised lines. It is a strange combination of usually alternate rather than complementary carving styles, but Katon has managed to integrate the two, creating a powerful unity of texture across the surface of the bottle. The Japanese genius for surface pattern is also revealed in Katon's subtle use of this innovative carving style.


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Hugh Moss |