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Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 18 

Lot 18


Lot 18
Treasury 2, no. 246

The Cussons Entwined Carp

Carnelian; well hollowed and carved in the form of two intertwined carp, a natural tripod foot formed by the tail fins of both fish
Height: 5.41 cm
Mouth: 0.7 cm
Stopper: glass; bone finial

Lot 18 Provenance:
Sydney L. Moss Ltd.
Alex S. Cussons
Hugh Moss
Paula J. Hallett
Sotheby’s, New York, 2 December 1985, lot 82

Moss 1971, p. 83, fig. 214
Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty, p. 112, no. 196
Kleiner 1987, no. 171
Treasury 2, no. 246

Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1974)
Hong Kong Museum of Art,
October–December 1978
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London,
October 1987
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993

Lot 18 Commentary
The fish here are real, rather than mythical as in Treasury 2, no. 245, and they can easily be identified as carp. The carp in China shared the same sound, although a different written character, as the word for ‘advantage’ or ‘profit’ and was a popular symbol on its own and in combination with other elements to extend the rebus. For this purpose, any form of carp, including goldfish or the distinctive fan-tailed goldfish, bore the same symbolism, hence the tank of goldfish found somewhere on the premises of most Chinese-run businesses. They are symbols of wealth and abundance because of the pun on yu, which, with different characters, means both fish and superfluity. It was also a symbol of reproductive powers, because of its abundance and tendency to lay large numbers of eggs, and of harmony and bliss since it always appeared perfectly happy in its environment (there is a legendary exchange recorded between Zhuangzi and Huizi over the contentment of fish). A further layer of meaning may be deduced from the pairing of the fish. Pairs of creatures (ducks, birds, etc.) implied marital harmony and a pair of fish were a standard form of this. The carp in particular was also a symbol of perseverance as well as of marital success (the former, perhaps, being a necessary qualification for the latter) and, in its successful struggle upstream to spawn, of success in the imperial examinations (see discussion under Treasury 2, no. 245). It is a freshwater fish esteemed both in China (where it is known as li) and Japan (koi) and delights in the Latin name Cyprinus carpio.

This is one of the finest of all known fish bottles and, although it is more sculpturally in the round and less constrained by the material than is normal for the group, may be an exceptional bottle of the group discussed under no. 158 in Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, of which a more typical example is no. 215 in Moss 1971. These bottles may, in part, be linked only by subject matter, but many are obviously from the same workshop. The depth of carving varies, but the conception remains the same, of a group of closely interlinked fish making up the bulk of the form of the bottle, although usually a snuff-bottle-shaped neck is added.

However, against including this bottle with that group is the fact that they are mostly intertwined fish making up the shape of a normal snuff-bottle form. Here, the bottle is quite unambiguously fish-shaped. It is the difference, really, between a bottle decorated with fish and a fish-form bottle. They are otherwise of similar sculptural inventiveness and quality. The hollowing is good without being notable and the detailing of the mouth excellent and unusual for a fish-form snuff bottle in that the lip is uneven, the lip of the bottle doubling as that of the upright fish and having its upper lip much fatter than its lower.

The material here is the red variety of chalcedony known as carnelian (see discussion under Treasury 2, no. 202) and as such differs materially from Treasury 2, no. 245 only in colour. This was, at one time, a gift from Alex Cussons to Hugh Moss.


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