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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part III  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2011: Lot 128 

Lot 128


Lot 128
Treasury 2, no. 273

A silhouette chalcedony ‘ducks and lotus pond’ snuff bottle

(‘The Third Duck Chalcedony’)

Chalcedony; very well hollowed, with a concave lip and concave foot surrounded by a rounded footrim; the natural markings in the stone edited to create a silhouette design of three ducks in a lotus pond
Official School, 1730–1850
Height: 5.9 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.76/2.1 and 2.02 cm (oval)
Stopper: coral; malachite collar

Lot 128 Provenance:
Hugh Moss (1991)

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 222
JICSBS, Winter 1984, p. 14, fig 14
JICSBS, Autumn 1997, p.8
Treasury 2, no. 273

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

Lot 128 Commentary
Another of the transcendent masterpieces of the genre, this is one of the last chalcedony bottles Hugh Moss parted with from his private collection of snuff bottles formed between 1960 and 1975 and it was always a personal favourite among the wide range of parti-coloured hardstone bottles he owned. It is the epitome of the combination so beloved of the Chinese aesthete of nature and the human hand, with the design inherent in the material needing only slight surface editing to bring it fully to life.

Two ducks are seen in a lotus pond. In one of those charming and always effective shifts in perspective so common to the sophisticated pictorial aesthetic of China, the upper bird is shown at a sharp angle to the lower one with a radically different horizontal orientation, defined by the waterline that diffuses the colour of the body beneath the water. The front bird’s feet are clearly shown, suggesting that it is standing on a foreground bank. The standing bird has rippling light thrown across its back, the light interrupted by the extraordinarily effective and entirely natural depiction of a nearby lotus leaf becoming ragged at its edges. Even the veins in the leaf are depicted quite naturally by paler markings in the stone. The edge of a second leaf is seen at the neck, its stem implied and coming from beyond the scene shown. One large darker marking beneath the swimming duck, and two other tiny black marks low on one narrow side can be interpreted as another lotus leaf or possibly a fish in the case of the larger marking, and as two smaller fish scurrying away from the inquisitive duck on the bank in the case of the smaller markings.

The obvious front of this bottle is exceptional in its own right, but is lifted into the transcendent class of sheer genius by the third bird, with a longer neck giving it the appearance of a goose rather than a duck, which is on one narrow side of the bottle. Completely natural in the stone, without any surface editing, it is the most extraordinary depiction of the bird, complete with one of the finest natural eyeballs known in the field; it has a well-delineated beak and nostril, and the neck curves elegantly down to a body seen in three-quarter view.

The hollowing, detailing and formal integrity of the bottle are all impeccable, allowing, of course, for the slight surface editing of the design, and the shape of the bottle and its feel in the hand are both elegant and satisfying. The stopper is thrilling, with its unusual and beautifully patinated malachite collar and old coral stopper perfectly in harmony with each other, both in colour and softness of sculpture. It forms a regal contrast to the chalcedony.


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Hugh Moss |