A crystal 'Double-gourd' snuff bottle possibly Imperial, Qing dynasty, 18th-early 19th century. Photo Sotheby's

of flawless crystal, very well hollowed, with a concave lip and a concave foot; the coral stopper with a turquoise finial and vinyl collar; 6.2 cm., 2½ in. Estimation 20,000 — 30,000. Lot. Vendu 56,250 HKD

PROVENANCE: Hugh M. Moss Ltd., 1985.

LITTERATURE: Hugh Moss, Victor Graham and Ka Bo Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles: The Mary and George Bloch Collection, vol. 2, Hong Kong, 1998, no. 242.

NOTE: The artist here has combined slight convex bulges on all four main faces of the two bulbs of the gourd with a sharply angled edge where the main and narrow sides meet, giving the impression of a flat bottle but leaving sufficient bulge in the bulbs of the gourd to accommodate an impression of the original form. It is a subtle curve in each case, but one that makes an enormous difference to the work of art, which is as carefully thought out in its other aspects as well. The type of foot is equally cleverly matched to so subtle a stylization of a natural form, with the small, concave oval recession standing for the calyx of the original fruit, yet acting as a normal concave oval foot, thus finding the same perfect balance between nature and the human mind as the form of the bottle itself.

The hollowing is another important formal choice that was made by the artist and that also speaks of the care and thoughtfulness with which this work of art has been made. That it is superbly done is obvious from the illustrations. From the main profile, the width of crystal walls left in the two bulbs, to allow the stone its due in the aesthetic equation, is exquisitely achieved, perfectly symmetrical, and impeccably finished. From the narrow-side view, however, where the qualities of the stone are less important, the hollowing leaves far thinner walls in the bulbs, allowing more capacity. From this narrow-side view, the outside and inside profiles are pinched in at the waist, cleverly maintaining the profile of the original fruit, which would otherwise be lost from this perspective. Another feature of the hollowing that again bespeaks the extraordinary thought and care put into this bottle is the width of the hollowing between the two bulbs of the gourd. Instead of matching the inner to the outer profile, as the artist could so obviously have done, he has chosen to set up a counterpoint to the outer form. Whether this was arrived at as a practical or an aesthetic solution is debatable, but it works as both, since access to the lower bulb is made much easier. With this example it is possible to extract snuff directly from the lower bulb without constraint. It is also formally brilliant, as it sets off the inner gourd shape against the outer, giving two different gourd profiles that are, nonetheless, perfectly balanced. It is, in effect, a double double gourd. To achieve this the artist has left walls so thin at the narrowest point of the waist that they are almost non-existent visually.

Sotheby's. Snuff Bottles from the Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VI. Hong Kong | 27 mai 2013 www.sothebys.com