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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 20 

Lot 20

Lot 20
Treasury 6, no. 1274

A copper-red and cobalt-blue porcelain ‘dragon’ snuff bottle

(‘Dancing Dragons’)

Colourless glaze on copper and cobalt on porcelain; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a convex footrim; painted under the glaze in copper-red with a continuous design of a five-clawed imperial dragon amidst formalized clouds and flames above another dragon rising from formalized waves, the beasts’ eyes in cobalt blue, the shoulders painted with formalized flames beneath a neck band of pendant, formalized lingzhi; the foot, lip, inner neck, and interior glazed
Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 1800–1840
Height: 7.4 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.4 cm
Stopper: mother-of-pearl; glass collar

Lot 20 Provenance:
Frances and Neal Hunter
Sotheby’s, New York, 15 September 1998, lot 177
Robert Hall

Treasury 6, no. 1274

Lot 20 Commentary
If the earliest pillar bottles had the broad neck and lip of Sale 1, lot 134, then those with the more standard narrow neck and lip may be the evolved form showing the accommodation of the pillar bottle to standard snuff-bottle proportions. This form already existed at the palace workshops in the second half of the Qianlong reign, as we know from two spectacular enamelled glass bottles (see under Sale 1, lot 134), but it is perhaps more likely that the present form evolved from the pillar-bottle group. Were this form painted with another scene, perhaps of a fisherman in a landscape, we might date it firmly to the mid-nineteenth century. Painted with two dragons wrapped around the body to form a continuous subject, however, it reveals its link with the pillar-bottle group, allowing an earlier date. There are actually two probable sources of this design. The first would be the standard pillar rug upon which this series seems to have been based, but which only rarely features two or more dragons. The second would be imperial ceramics from earlier in the Qing dynasty, on which the design of one dragon above another rising from waves was common (although not on snuff bottles).

As pillar bottles began to look more like standard cylindrical ceramic snuff bottles, the combination of these influences produced a new design tradition appropriate to the shape. The painting of the dragons is still powerful, closer to the standard pillar bottles represented by Sale 1, lot 134> than to many of the rather decorative beasts of the mid- to late nineteenth century, so it probably dates from the Jiaqing reign or only a little later.

Underglaze-red wares are generally rarer than their underglaze-blue counterparts, primarily because the colour was more difficult to control. This is one of the livelier examples of underglaze-red decoration, combining unusually fine, vibrant colour with well-controlled detail. It is also decorated with two of the more charismatic dragons in the field, beasts that appear to be dancing without inhibition. In fact, it is not until one begins to get involved with the personalities of the two beasts that one of the more unusual features of this bottle becomes apparent. The eyes of each dragon are painted in underglaze blue. Just four, tiny dabs of blue complete the scene in a delightful touch that somehow underlines the unusual commitment to perfection represented here.

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