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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 50 

Lot 50

Lot 50
Treasury 1, no. 134

A pale green nephrite pebble-material ‘dragon’ snuff bottle

(‘The Master of the Rocks Dragon Vortex’)

Nephrite of pebble material; well hollowed, with a recessed, rounded-rectangular foot; carved with a continuous design of turbulent water at the base with a vortex surrounded by cresting waves on each side, one with the sun and a flying bat flanked on each side by distinctly lingzhi-shaped clouds, the other with a dragon emerging from clouds clutching at a flaming pearl while spouting a stream of water or vapour back into the vortex, another swirl of vapour emerging from the waves on one narrow side and containing a beribboned lozenge (fangsheng)
Master of the Rocks school, 1680–1780
Height: 7.46 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.7/1.91 and 1.89 cm (oval)
Stopper: reticulated coral, made from half a bead carved with formalized shou (‘longevity’) characters surrounded by a scrolling floral motif; nephrite finial; gilt-copper collar

Lot 50 Provenance:
Paula J. Hallett
Sotheby’s, New York, 2 December 1985, lot 106
Hugh M. Moss Ltd.

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 54
Treasury 1, no. 134

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

Lot 50 Commentary
This is another of the powerful examples in this collection from the Master of the Rocks school. It is linked by the distinctive material and by style, although there is some variation from the standard wares of the group, which are probably from the mid-Qing period. We postulate that this is an unusually early example. The extensively worn surface is an indication of this, although in isolation, of course, not an entirely reliable one. The wear is extremely convincing, with some areas of relief so well handled that the incised lines have been smoothed away completely from the central vortex of one side. It seems unlikely that this could have happened to a later Qing bottle, particularly since it would not have been used for snuff during most of the last hundred years. There are other indications of considerable age, and it might be from earlier in the Qing dynasty than the standard output of the school, and even a Kangxi date could be argued.

The long, thin, sinuous dragon, largely lost behind clouds but with enough of its body shown to indicate its length and configuration, is typical of the early eighteenth century, and there is even a tenuous link with the early red glass overlay bottle in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 360), not only in the typically Kangxi, large-headed and long, thin-bodied dragon, but in the power of the subject and the lingzhi-shaped clouds. Although none of these features would preclude a Yongzheng or Qianlong date, it seems reasonable to assume that it is no later.

It is certainly one of the most powerful examples from the school. The natural wear has greatly enhanced a design of imposing strength. A sense of flow and primal energy is captured in the design, and apart from the double lozenge (fangsheng), which occurs as one of the various sets of Eight Treasures of later Chinese history, the elements of the design seem somehow timeless. Both main sides have strong designs, but the simpler and now more readily readable side with the sun, waves, bat and clouds is magnificent. The elements are laid out simply and directly, the disc of the sun balanced below by the circular vortex of water, and the two are framed by the flying bat and the wisps of clouds above and, to the sides, by the cresting waves which are ideally abstracted but also evocative as turbulent seas.

The pebble skin on this example, almost certainly enhanced by the oils from the hands which smoothed it to so great an extent over the past two or three centuries, is as darkly rich and fascinating as any known.

For related examples, see Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 5, p. 24, fig. 3 (for a similar design equally powerfully carved, but possibly a little later since the large size relates to examples of the core group from the school); Eldred’s, 27 August 1992, lot 134, and Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 24 April 1993, lot 529.

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