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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 35 

Lot 35

Lot 35
Treasury 7, no. 1624

A pewter snuff bottle

(‘Leaden Orange’)

Pewter; with a flat lip and protruding, concave foot; the exterior surfaces all pitted to imitate the peel of a citrus fruit
Attributed to the palace workshops, Beijing, 1700–1800
Height: 6.24 cm
Mouth/lip: 1.05/1.48 cm
Stopper: glass; silver collar embellished with a twisted wire ‘rope’

Lot 35 Provenance:
Stempel Collection
Sotheby’s, New York (PB84), 11 October 1979, lot 183
Joseph Baruch Silver
Clare Lawrence
Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1992)

Hong Kong1977, no. 237
Hong Kong Tatler, November 1977, p. 80, fig. 237
JICSBS, Winter 1984, front cover
Silver 1987,no. 74
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 289
Treasury 7, no. 1624

Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–November 1977
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–January 1995

Lot 35 Commentary
Very few pewter snuff bottles have survived. Two are in the Bloch Collection; both strongly suggest a palace-workshop origin. The other in this collection is Sale 2, lot 135, with its typically eighteenth-century palace mask-and-ring handles and imperial form. Another is also a credible imperial product (from the John Ruckman Collection, subsequently owned by Charles V. Swain and now in a private collection; see Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 5, p. 9).

Although without the handles, the shape of this bottle is a standard one for palace glass bottles from the eighteenth century, many of which bear Qianlong reign marks. With its wide mouth and largish size, this may even predate the Qianlong period. It is not dissimilar in form to some of the larger enamelled metal bottles from the late Kangxi period. This form in general is based upon the large water containers used by nomads across the steppes and was popular throughout the eighteenth century in many subtly different forms. This particular one may be as early as the Kangxi period or as late as the Qianlong.

Whenever it was made, the obvious intention seems to have been to imitate the peel of a citrus fruit. It is a simple decorative idea, transforming one material into a reminder of another, and it has been done with extraordinary care and commitment. In theory, it involves no more than hammering or tapping a small metal round-headed tool into the surface over and over again. Such a process can very easily become boring, however, causing the attention to wander, with the result that the texture veers into one extreme or the other: geometric patterns of lines and grids, or areas of high and low density. It is the same in painting, when such details as the repetitive strokes for areas of the foliage of trees speak loudly of any loss of commitment in lesser paintings and sing with vital energy in masterpieces. Whichever anonymous artist had the task of texturing this rare bottle, he seems to have been well aware he was working for the emperor. He was not about to let his attention lapse for so much as a second. The evocation of stippled natural citrus skin is simply astounding in its control.

This texturing effort completely conceals the joins between the halves, but the construction method is obvious from the inside. The two halves were beaten into a mould (all the hammering marks are still visible inside) and then joined with solder up the narrow sides. We have not listed solder as a separate component of the medium of metal snuff bottles, since it is a minor component used only in order to join two pieces of metal together and is so sparsely used in some cases that to list it as a significant material would seem perverse. The most common form of solder consists of lead and tin, precisely what pewter is made from, although minor amounts of other minerals are sometimes thrown into the mix.

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