snuffbottles

Three snuf fbottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection.  Photo Bonhams

HONG KONG.- Bonhams nnounces its much-anticipated auction of Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection Part IV, to be held in Hong Kong on November 28, 2011 at the Island Shangri-la Hotel.

Following extraordinary results achieved by Bonhams for Parts I, II and III of the collection, in which every snuff bottle from the collection was sold, with world records broken in eleven different categories, Part IV is eagerly awaited by collectors. The sale features a total of 170 snuff bottles with an overall estimate of HK$21,000,000 - 38,000,000.

Historically, the habit of using ground tobacco (snuff) was introduced to Asia by 17th Century Western travellers from Europe, where it was an exotic import from the Americas. Chinese snuff takers found that traditional Western snuffboxes did not work well in the humid climates of Asia, and from the later 17th Century Chinese craftsmen created small airtight bottles to keep the ground tobacco in perfectly dry condition. Snuff bottles were manufactured on a grand scale throughout the Qing dynasty, but the majority consisted of low quality examples used by those outside of elite circles. However, a highly select group of masterpieces were commissioned for the Imperial Court.

Several great collections of snuff bottles were formed in the early 20th century in Asia, Europe and the USA. However, no collection formed in the modern era can rival that formed by the late George Bloch (1920-2009). It consists of 1720 bottles, purchased at auction and from leading international snuff bottle dealers from 1983 onwards. Extensively published and exhibited at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and British Museum, it is widely regarded as the highest quality collection of snuff bottles in private hands. The contents of this world famous collection span three centuries of top-level Chinese craftsmanship. Significantly, the most expensive snuff bottle from the Bloch Collection sold to date was a 4.22 cm high and one of the most exquisite bottles in private hands, which was made for the Imperial Court of 18th Century China. Estimated at HK$1,800,000 - HK$3,000,000, it was sold for a world record price of HK$9,280,000 in May 2010.

Highlights from Part IV of the Mary and George Bloch Collection include:

Lot 38; A ‘famille-rose’ enamelled glass ‘European-subject’ snuff bottle Imperial, palace workshops, Beijing, Qianlong blue-enamelled four-character mark and of the period, 1736-1760; 8.07cm high. Estimate: HK$4,900,000 - 9,000,000
The largest snuff bottle of all recorded palace enamels on glass, this is set apart by the distinctly European, elaborate trompe l’oeil frames around all four panels. The main panels are of European subjects, while the subsidiary ones are Chinese landscapes. This snuff bottle reflects considerable European characteristics; representative of the historical period it was made. The influence of the missionaries in the court arts of glassmaking and enamelling (particularly on metal and glass, which were arts introduced from the West) was significant during the first half of the eighteenth century. When this bottle was made, European and Chinese court artists worked side by side at the palace workshops.

38a

38B

38C

38D

38E

Treasury 6, no. 1071: A 'famille-rose' enamelled glass 'European-subject' snuff bottle. Photo Bonhams

Famille-rose enamels on translucent white glass; with a flat lip and recessed, slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim, with raised rounded rectangular panels on each of the four sides; painted on the two main-side panels with European subjects, one of a young woman with a basket of flowers over her left arm, the corner of a building behind her, and the other with a young woman holding a goblet and standing beside a tall, circular stand with lathe-turned legs on which a bowl of fruit, including a Buddha's-hand fruit, is set, an architectural column behind her; the two narrow-side panels painted in ruby red with Chinese landscape scenes, one with a riverside village, the other with an open pavilion set on a riverbank beneath trees; the frame contained within formalized, floral swags, the panels surrounded by a yellow enamel ground painted with an iron-red, scrolling, formalized floral design, the shoulders with a band of scrolling, interlocking, formalized floral design,
including lingzhi, linked by rings beneath a neck band of formalized petals; the foot inscribed in blue regular script Qianlong nian zhi ('Made during the Qianlong period')
Imperial, palace workshops, Beijing, 1736–1760
Height: 8.07 cm. Mouth/lip: 0.86/1.49 cm. Stopper: mother-of-pearl; coral collar

Condition: tiny nibbles to inner lip; tiny chip out of yellow enamel framing of one narrow-side panel; some enamels pitted, but not obtrusive; some scratches and abrasions from wear, but not obtrusive. General relative condition: excellent. Pearl stopper illustrated in Treasury 6 broken and replaced with mother-of-pearl cabochon

Provenance: Unidentified Hong Kong dealer (prior to 1975)
B. T. Lyons
Sotheby's, London, 20 April 1982, lot 64
Mei Ling Collection
Sotheby's, New York, 15 March 1984, lot 73 (front cover illustration)
Ashkenazie, San Francisco, (1987)

Published:Arts of Asia, July-August 1982, p. 133
JICSBS, Spring 1984, p. ii
Orientations, June 1984, p. 64
JICSBS, Summer 1984, p. 30
Christie's Review of the Season, 1983–84, p. 388
Arts of Asia, September–October 1990, p. 90, fig. 1c
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 14
Kleiner 1994a, plate 3
Kleiner 1995, no. 23
JICSBS, Autumn 2000, p. 15, fig. 50
Treasury 6, no. 1071

Exhibited: Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

The largest snuff bottle of all recorded palace enamels on glass, this is set apart by the distinctly European, elaborate trompe l'oeil frames around all four panels. The main panels are of European subjects, while the subsidiary ones are Chinese landscapes, but, quite apart from the main subject, we can be certain of considerable European influence here. Even without their facial features and curly, pale-coloured hair, these figures would be recognized as European women. Chinese women would never be depicted under normal circumstances in such revealing garments. Are these foreigners representative of the wanton behaviour the Chinese often attributed to the women of strange cultures? Or is it simply a mark of sophistication and class to capture images of Europeans in their native element and fix them within the confines of a miniature painting?

Certain Chinese features are introduced, such as the basket one woman holds and the tall, circular table beside which the other stands, which is based on a standard Chinese incense stand (designed to hold the three essential components of an incense set: burner, powder box, and small vase to hold incense tools). The designer, however, while using a typically Chinese piece of furniture, gave it lathe-turned legs entirely in European style. Was the designer a missionary artist producing a design to please his Chinese masters, complete with familiar Chinese furniture in the foreign setting; or a Chinese designer automatically adding an essential piece of native furniture to the design, but trying to make it look in keeping with the Western subject matter?

European influence is even apparent in the Chinese scenes of the narrow-side panels. Although they are typical Chinese landscape scenes, the central clump of trees on one of them, with their straight trunks and the upper branches of a bare tree beyond, hint at European influence from either the designer or the enameller. Even the formalized petals at the neck, based upon the standard broad, repeated lotus-petals that appear so frequently on Buddhist figural images, resemble tufts of helmet feathers from a European military uniform. The influence of the missionaries in the court arts of glassmaking and enamelling (particularly on metal and glass, which were arts introduced from the West) was considerable during the first half of the eighteenth century, and when this bottle was made, European and Chinese court artists worked side by side at the palace workshops.

Lot 112. A 'famille-rose' enamelled copper and gold 'millefleurs' snuff bottle Imperial, palace workshops, Beijing, Qianlong blue-enamelled four-character mark and of the period, 1736-1775; 4.19cm high. Estimate: HK$2,000,000-4,000,000
This exquisitely unique palace enamel features a highly artistic craftsmanship; evidenced by its distinctively different composition of a commonly popular subject. Although the subject here is part of the popular theme of profusion of flowers, the conception and composition are individual, with one particularly unusual feature being the simple view of each flower, looking straight into the corolla of the bloom. Also unusual are the slight but significant yellow ground upon which they crowd and the intensity of the palette. The surrounding details attest to both Chinese and European influences.

112A

112B

112C

112D

112E

112F

Treasury 6, no. 1082: A 'famille-rose' enamelled copper and gold 'millefleurs' snuff bottle. Photo Bonhams

Famille-rose enamels on copper, with gold; with a flat lip and concave foot with a very slightly recessed, slightly convex central area, surrounded by a flat footrim; painted on each main side with quatrefoil panels of millefleurs design including lotus, lilies, chrysanthemums, asters, and peonies, the surrounds with a series of interlinked circles and 'C' scrolls interspersed with small circles shaded to resemble hemispheres; with neck-bands of formalized waves, a formalized floral scroll, and dots, the latter repeated around the base; the foot inscribed in blue regular script Qianlong nian zhi ('Made during the Qianlong period'); the interior covered with a patchy, turquoise-blue enamel; the exposed metal gilt
Imperial, palace workshops, Beijing, 1736–1775
Height: 4.19 cm. Mouth/lip: 0.72/1.25 cm. Stopper: gilt bronze, chased with a formalized floral design; original

Condition: well-restored area upper neck, 1.0 x 0.5cm, plus two other small chips made up; some wear to gilding on foot; some minor original pitting to enamel, but otherwise, workshop condition

Provenance:Fima and Lillian Ginzberg
Sotheby's, New York, 26 November 1991, lot 92 (back cover illustration)

Published: Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 3
Kleiner 1995, no. 11
Treasury 6, no. 1082

Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

We are constantly tempted to overuse the term 'unique' with palace enamels, but the fact is, the vast majority of them are simply that. One of the features of highly artistic work is that each composition is different, even if the subject is a popular one. Although the subject here is part of the popular theme of a profusion of flowers, the conception and composition are individual, with one particularly unusual feature being the simple view of each flower, looking straight into the corolla of the bloom. Also unusual are the slight but significant yellow ground upon which they crowd and the intensity of the palette.

The surrounds here are intriguing, and a first impression is of a rather European design, although with subtle reference in parts to the standard lingzhi symbolism that so often finds its way into these decorative borders in some guise or other. They are more likely to have been derived from archaic jades, however, where the shape of the ubiquitous bi disc provides the circles, and the raised, formalized design of 'C' shapes and raised bosses that so often decorate their surfaces, the interlocking forms. The 'C' scrolls probably originally represented formalized clouds, although they may also be derived from a simplified leiwen ('thunder-pattern'). Whatever their origin, the white circles they enclose here have been deliberately shaded to suggest spheres; read as pearls floating in the design, these spheres would be symbolically appropriate, since the pearl is associated with the emperor.

Enamelled glass bottles from the early Qianlong period often have unusually shallow recessions and, during the mid-Qianlong period, there was even a tendency towards a protruding, completely flat foot. It may be that it was simply easier to write a calligraphically fluent mark on a relatively level base than on a recessed one, where a protruding footrim would inhibit to some extent the natural modulations of brushwork. Because the vast majority of these wares, and probably nearly all of them from the late Kangxi onwards, were intended to be inscribed with marks, they were constructed accordingly.

Lot 166. A 'famille-rose' enamelled copper and gold 'blossoming prunus' snuff bottle Imperial, palace workshops, Beijing, Kangxi blue-enamelled four-character mark and of the period, 1710-1722; 5.13cm high. Estimate: HK$1,500,000-2,500,000
This is one of the most spectacular and intriguing of all Kangxi palace snuff bottles, and the only surviving enamelled metal snuff bottle with a continuous design (as opposed to panels of decoration surrounded by formalized floral designs). It is also striking because of its ruby-red ground, again the only example known from the period on an enamelled metal snuff bottle.

166A

166B

166C

166D

166E

166F

Treasury 6, no. 1066: A 'famille-rose' enamelled copper and gold 'blossoming prunus' snuff bottle. Photo Bonhams

Famille-rose enamels on copper, with gold; with a flat lip and slightly recessed, slightly concave foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim;
painted with the continuous design of a blossoming prunus tree on a ruby-red ground, the foot inscribed in blue regular script Kangxi yuzhi ('Made by imperial command of the Kangxi emperor'), the interior covered with a patchy, pale turquoise-blue enamel, the interior of the neck with an additional metal lining below the lip, the exposed lip and inner neck gilt, the original copper foot encased in a separate gold footrim
Imperial, palace workshops, Beijing, 1710–1722
Height: 5.13 cm. Mouth/lip: 0.79/1.25 cm. Stopper: gilt bronze; chased with a formalized floral design; original

Condition: small area of damage at the very top the neck; some damage extremely well repaired, including an area of white beside the mark, on approximately 20% of the surface; some pitting to surface

Provenance: Property of a lady of title
Christie's, London, 26 January 1976, lot 66
Hugh Moss (1981)
The Belfort Collection (1986)

Published: Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, no. 4
Très précieuses tabatières chinoises, p. 19, no. 247
La Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot, 4 June 1982
JICSBS, Winter 1986, front cover
Kleiner 1987, no. 1
Orientations, October 1987, p. 44, no. 15
Galeries Lafayette 1990, p. 7, no. 4
Arts of Asia, September–October 1990, p. 96
Kleine Schätze aus China, p. 42 and front cover
CA Live

Die Mitarbeiterzeitung der Creditanstalt, Nr. 3 1993, p. 11
Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 1
Oriental Art, Spring 1994, p. 34
Kleiner 1994a, p. 14, fig. 2.1
Kleiner 1995, no. 1
JICSBS, Autumn 2000, p. 5, fig. 6
Treasury 6, no. 1066

Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, October–December 1978
L'Arcade Chaumet, Paris, June 1982
Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987
Galeries Lafayette, Paris, April 1990
Creditanstalt, Vienna, May–June 1993
Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum of Singapore, November 1994–February 1995
British Museum, London, June–October 1995
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July–November 1997

This is one of the most spectacular and intriguing of all Kangxi palace snuff bottles, and the only surviving enamelled metal snuff bottle with a continuous design (as opposed to panels of decoration surrounded by formalized floral designs). It is also striking because of its ruby-red ground – again the only example known from the period on an enamelled metal snuff bottle, although there is an unmarked enamelled glass snuff bottle with a ruby-red ground in the imperial collection (Chang Lin-sheng 1991, p. 111, no. 73). It also has unusually thick gilding covering, in a rare departure from standard practise, on the entire interior of the neck (whose metal lining is unusual) as well as the lip and upper neck rim. The stopper is similarly gilt and is not only obviously the original, but still has what appears to be its original palace-style spoon of the right length and style, with the shaft giving way to a broad, concave, pear-shaped bowl of a type that persisted into the Qianlong period as a standard for enamels on metal and for palace spoons in general. The original copper foot was unusually thin in this case, and the thick gilding elsewhere seems to have prompted the addition of a separate solid-gold fillet fitted over the copper rim.

Julian King, Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at Bonhams Hong Kong, commented on the collection, and Bonhams’ place at the forefront of collectables in China and Hong Kong, “Bonhams has been setting world record prices with the sale of the Mary and George Bloch Collection, since the first sale took place in May 2010, in Hong Kong. As the leading auction house in the world for Chinese snuff bottles, we are very proud to be able to offer collectors the chance to own part of the Part IV collection. As a growing number of collectors vie for the best snuff bottles, their value has increased rapidly. Over the last decade prices have increased over fourfold making this collectable a highly portable alternative investment”.

Auction : 28 November at 10am - Public Viewing : 24 November from 1pm to 9pm ; 25, 26 and 27 November from 10am to 9pm - Venue : Island Ballroom & Taishan Room, Island Shangri-La Hotel Admiralty Hong Kong