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photographer E-Yaji.

The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part I  
Bonham's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2010: Lot 114 

Lot 114

Lot 114
Treasury 6, no. 1131

Birthday Gourd

Famille rose enamels on copper, with gold; in the form of a compressed double gourd with a flat lip; painted with the continuous design of a sash decorated with a formalized floral design and tied in a bow to enclose severed branches of tree peony, magnolia, rose, camellia, and an openwork, eternal-knot symbol with a model of a dragon-carp hanging from a chain attached to it; the foot painted with a leafy peach branch bearing two fruits, inscribed on the peaches in black enamel regular script Yongzheng nian zhi (Made during the Yongzheng period); the neck encircled by a band of continuous leiwen (thunder pattern); the interior covered by white enamel, the interior of the neck fitted with an additional metal lining below the lip; all exposed metal with traces of original gilding
Imperial, Guangzhou, 1723–1735
Height: 5.6 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.71/1.10 cm
Stopper: gilt bronze, chased with a formalized floral design

Lot 114 Provenance:
Hugh M. Moss, Ltd (1970)
Margaret Prescott Wise
Edgar and Roberta Wise (1995)
Robert Kleiner (1996)

Newsletter, Chinese Snuff Bottle Society of America, Inc., June 1972, p. 7, lower front-left
Snuff Bottles of the Ch’ing Dynasty 1978, no. 6
JICSBS, Spring 1996, p. 35
Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, no. 234
Arts of Asia, March–April 1997, p. 149, no 234
Treasury 6, no. 1131

Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–December 1978
The Tsui Museum, Hong Kong, October 1996

Lot 114 Commentary
Technically, this bottle is perfectly controlled, although it has suffered a bit from the passage of time. The painting is also masterly, matching anything produced at the palace workshops under the supervision of court artists, bringing to life with uninhibited, expressive brushwork the superbly composed design. It has the same substantial metal liner for the inner neck as Treasury 6, no. 1130; when thickly gilt, this would have resembled that example, but with the gold mostly worn off it is revealed to be a separate tube of metal soldered to the inner neck.
As we noted under Treasury 6, no. 1128, the Yongzheng emperor was fond of black grounds on his enamels, and they appear quite frequently during his reign on wares from both Beijing and Guangzhou. In this case, it is easy to see why he favoured it. Not only does it throw the design into prominence, it allows an extra linear dimension that is extremely effective. This can be seen at its clearest around the leaves and stems of the various flowers, where a varying line of white outlines the forms as a counterpoint to the sparse use of black lines. It proves beyond a doubt that the black was not an overall ground upon which the colours were added (which would not have worked in any case, as the standard white ground for painted enamels on metal would have been needed for the paler areas of the flowers and the sash), but a final phase that was painted around the design. Further proof of this is found in one tiny gap between leafy branches where the artist neglected to add the black ground (a 3 mm white line on the main side without the tied bow, in the upper bulb, just above and to the right of the blue inner lining of the sash).

The design here is a typically imperial one. Sash-tied vessels are a standard decorative motif at the court and occur frequently on gifts. Apart from its longevity symbolism, a fancy sash tied around something denotes its function as a gift. In this case we may assume that the gift was for the emperor’s birthday. It was standard for reign marks to be painted on peaches for birthday gifts, particularly during the Yongzheng period. It was also standard for the emperor to be showered with gifts from all over the realm on his birthday; the records relating to tribute from Guangzhou cite many birthday gifts to various emperors. While we may be sure that this was a gift to the Yongzheng emperor from officials in Guangzhou, we can be equally sure that it was not a design produced by court artists for production at Guangzhou. The design here is typical of Guangzhou both in content and style. Although the tied sash may have been a court favourite throughout the eighteenth century, the distinctive addition of dangling symbolic objects (the charming dragon-carp and the openwork knot), often tied by a chain or cord to the sash, is a typically southern embellishment.

This particular model has given rise to a small group of fakes in recent years (see for instance Sotheby’s, New York, 22 March 2001, lot 240, and Hanhai, Beijing, 12 January 2004, lot 2204), but other genuine ones exist. A second bottle from the same series, also with the mark drawn over a fruiting branch, although with a bat added for more good luck, is now in the Denis Low Collection (Kleiner 1999, no. 6; Kleiner 1997, no. 4, and Sotheby’s, London, 7 June 1990, lot 295). It is obviously closely related, but each bottle is an independent artistic statement. Despite the similarity of subject and colouring, the two designs are recomposed with different elements, suggesting that, as at court, these early designs were thought out anew for each work of art rather than being repeated from a pattern book. Another enamelled metal bottle from the Qianlong reign and still in the imperial collection is similarly decorated with a dangling dragon-carp (Li Jiufang 2002, no. 153); and another, but with a yellow ground, is in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 179). It too has branches tied within the sash. Another with a yellow ground, dated by Tatiana Arapova to the Qianlong period, is in the Hermitage Museum (Arapova 1988, no. 148), with a hanging chime dangling from the sash, and a leaf shaped fan tied within it; and one more Qianlong version is in Hughes 2002, no. 344. There is a Yongzheng marked Guangzhou enamel with dragons in the Denis Low Collection (Low 2007, no. 6)

The range of symbolism is standard here, particularly for a birthday gift. The gourd shape represents the continuity of the family line because of the seasonal proliferation of fruit growing from a single vine. The China rose (yueji) stands for prosperity throughout the year. The peonies alone represent wealth, but in combination with the magnolia (yulan), evoke the idiomatic expression Yutang fugui (A magnificent mansion blessed with wealth and social distinction). The camellia, as a spring flower, portends vitality. As befits a birthday gift, however, the idea of ‘many happy returns’, or longevity, is the main burden of the design expressed by the peaches in which the mark is written, the sash (shoudai) representing longevity (shou), the eternal knot, representing a life without end, the formalized floral scroll design on the sash, and the continuous leiwen pattern around the neck. The sash, if read generally as a wrapper (fu), can also mean good fortune (fu). With all that going for him, it is perhaps surprising that the Yongzheng emperor’s reign was so short, but he did have a long-lived father and he almost made it to his sixtieth birthday.

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