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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 43 

Lot 43

Lot 43
Treasury 6, no. 1135      

An enamel ‘floral’ snuff bottle

(‘Wrapped Peonies’)

Famille rose enamels on copper, with gold; with a flat lip and slightly recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; painted with a continuous design of two branches of tree peonies, each with four flowers, wrapped around with a sash tied in a knot at one shoulder, the fabric decorated with a formalized, floral diaper design; the shoulders with a band of pendant formalized petals beneath a neck band of formalized floral scroll; the foot inscribed in blue regular script Qianlong nian zhi (‘Made during the Qianlong period’); the interior partially covered with white enamel, all exposed metal gilt Imperial, Guangzhou, 1750–1795
Height: 4.88 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.82/1.25 cm
Stopper: famille rose enamels on metal, with gold, painted with formalized lotus petals; metal finial and collar; Guangzhou, 1725–1780

Lot 43 Provenance:
A. W. Bahr
Robert H. Ellsworth
J & J Collection
Sotheby’s, New York, 3 October 1980, lot 173
Eric Young
Sotheby’s, London, 3 March 1987, lot 66 (front cover illustration)

JICSBS, September 1980, p. ii, top left
Kleiner 1987, no. 9
Galeries Lafayette 1990>. p. 7, no. 5
JICSBS, Summer 1987, p. 23
Treasury 6, no. 1135      

Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Galeries Lafayette, Paris, April 1990
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

Lot 43 Commentary
This is a rare Chinese subject from the group of enamel-on-copper snuff bottles discussed under Treasury 6, no. 1134. (Another by the same hand is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Leidy, Irving, Siu, and Watt 1998, p. 16, bottom right). The distinctive colouring, the metalwork, and the style of the various border designs all identify the bottles as part of a single group. The distinctive band of pale yellowish-green immediately beneath the lip here is commonly found on bottles of the group, no. 1134. They usually bear a very neatly drawn and distinctive blue enamel reign mark, which appears on both this and no. 1134. Probably also from the mid- to late Qianlong period, the design here harks back to the tied-sash designs of the Yongzheng and early Qianlong periods (discussed under Sale 1, lot 114, and represented by Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 180, and Sotheby’s, London, 2 May 1985, lot 477).

The demand for high-quality enamels, including those depicting European subjects, continued largely unabated throughout the Qianlong reign; to whatever extent certain artists or groups of designers and artists may have specialized in a certain subject matter, they were both willing and able to switch from European to Chinese subjects according to perceived demand or specific orders. It is worth noting, however, that the painting on this example is rather more artistic than on many with European subjects, confirming the likelihood that the artist who actually painted the enamels was Chinese. Perhaps less confident with European figure subjects and anatomical detail, the artist must have felt at home with the more familiar flower painting, for he has painted an entirely convincing subject in every detail – indeed, with considerable flair. Apart from being one of the rarest of the entire group, because of its Chinese subject, this bottle is also among the best as a painting. Had we nothing but this bottle by which to judge the artist, he would be ranked among the best, even though his European figure paintings reveal his minor shortcomings as a figure painter compared to the masterworks of the palace workshops. A more accurate depiction of Western faces would have been difficult, however, for an artist working within the framework of Chinese aesthetics, which favoured capturing the spirit of the subject or the unseen causes and effects of what is seen over simply capturing the particularities of its surface appearance. Besides, European artists of the time, to the extent that they seriously attempted to go beyond their training in European facial types, stumbled over the portrayal of East Asians; why should we hold Chinese artists to a ‘higher’ standard of realism?

It is apparent, from close examination of a number of enamels for the present study, that the enamelling of the interiors at Guangzhou was not taken quite as seriously as it was at Beijing. With a snuff bottle that, being small and compact, was less likely to warp in the firing than a larger vessel or flat panel, the need to equalize the tensions on both sides of the copper base appears to have been less pressing. On several of the Guangzhou bottles the interior enamelling is not only patchy, but quite thin. On this piece it is all but invisible except around the upper area, near the inner neck, and it is not clear whether the lower interior was ever covered with enamel at all. What little white enamel is visible has some blue speckling. This is a fairly common phenomenon on enamels, arising from reaction with the copper; sometimes it presents itself where the white ground meets a neck or footrim, although more care was taken to circumvent it on exterior surfaces.

The stopper here is a rare early Guangzhou example, although not made for this particular bottle. Added recently, it fits well, but the metalwork does not match, and this type of bottle is far more likely to have been fitted originally with a gilt bronze stopper chased with a formalized floral design.

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