An inscribed and carved porcelain 'dragon' snuff bottle
Imperial, Wang Bingrong, Jingdezhen, 18201860 6cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1357
刻瓷雲龍鼻煙壺 王炳榮款，景德鎮， 1820～1860
Pale yellow and black glaze on porcelain; the reticulated, double body with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; carved on the outer body with a continuous design of an imperial five-clawed dragon chasing a flaming pearl against a background of formalized clouds and flames; the foot engraved in seal script, Wang Bingrong zuo (Made by Wang Bingrong); all exterior surfaces, except the footrim, glazed; the pupils of the eyes painted black; the interior unglazed Imperial, Wang Bingrong, Jingdezhen, 18201860 Height: 6 cm Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.45 cm Stopper: yellow glaze on porcelain, carved as a formalized chrysanthemum head; original Condition: slight crack running through two formalized clouds on the back of the bottle, barely visible and possibly a stress crack from the manufacture; otherwise, in kiln condition. General relative condition: excellent
Commentary: Any master snuff-bottle maker of the Daoguang period would probably have eventually come to the attention of the emperor. With the palace workshops in decline, many closed and others producing far fewer and far less impressive works than half a century before, the court apparently shifted to ordering imperial wares from private workshops. We are not sure of the implications of the lighter yellow Wang sometimes used; it may have been such a pale version of imperial yellow that it bypassed the current protocol. But in this case the glaze is distinctly yellow and accompanies an unquestionably imperial five-clawed dragon. All of the indications, then, are that Wang produced some bottles for the court, some with the appropriate five-clawed beats for the imperial family and (less frequently) some with four-clawed beasts to present to the ennobled.
With this series of bottles with double bodies and dragon-and-cloud decoration, Wang used a variety of colours. Pale yellow examples are in Sotheby's, London, 6 May 1986, lot 297; Sotheby's, New York, 22 November 1988, lots 1 and 262; Sotheby's, London, 21 June 1995, lot 151; Sotheby's, New York, 17 September 1996, lot 127; Denis S. K. Low 2002, no. 187; JICSBS, Autumn 2001, p. 36, fig. 6b; Perry 1960, no. 64; Sotheby's, New York, 15 September 1998, lot 179, unsigned but obviously by Wang, and Friedman 1990, no. 129. Turquoise-blue examples include Treasury 6, no. 1358, and Sotheby's, New York, 1 June 1994, lot 706, with the dragon's head looking backwards; Hong Kong 1977, no. 70 (where, again, brief captions make no mention of marks, but Wang's dragon style is difficult to miss, with or without informative captions); and Ford 1982, no. 166. There is also a much paler turquoise-blue represented by Treasury 6, no. 1359; Sin, Hui, and Kwong 1996, no. 124; Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 16 November 1989, lot 120, and Kleiner 1993, no. 19. Caramel brown examples are in Hall 2001, no.53; Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 248; Hui and Sin 1994, no. 33, also in JICSBS, Autumn 2000, p. 18, fig. 7; Sotheby's, London, 5 December 1983, lot 5, possibly unsigned but certainly by Wang; Etude Jutheau, Paris, 20 November 1992, lot 45; Hanhai, Beijing, 24 October 1996, lot 22, again unsigned but certainly by Wang; and Randall and Ju 1991, no. 24. Mottled emerald-green examples imitating jadeite are in Stevens 1976, no. 265, also in Sotheby's, New York, 25 June 1982, lot 69; Sotheby's, New York, 3 November 1982, lot 97; Hamilton 1977, p. 116, no. P 9, with signature, and P 10, without; Sotheby's, New York, 5 June 1987, lot 5, from the Szekeres Collection. He also produced them without glaze as biscuit porcelain, and an example is in Kleiner 1997, no. 94, which is also in Sotheby's, London, 23 January 1979, lot 36. There is also a very rare variant, with a green dragon on what appears to be a cream-glazed ground, unsigned but obviously by Wang Bingrong, that was in Christie's, New York, 3 December 1992, lot 378, also in Lawrence 1995, no. 77. There are then some illustrations that do not permit us to identify the exact colour: an unidentified pale-coloured glaze in JICSBS, Autumn 1987, p. 12, figs. 19 and 20, and JICSBS, December 1976, p.19, fig. 60 (possibly either a pale yellow or creamy-white glaze).
There are also several of these dragon bottles with Qianlong marks (J.W.A. International 2000, no. 5 and front cover; Sotheby's, Olympia, 13 June 2003, lot 811; China Guardian, 20 April 1996, lot 836, and Sotheby's, Billingshurst, 25 June 1991, lot 221). Another bottle, with two Buddhist lions and decorated with an imitation-jadeite glaze, was in Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 21 November 1974, lot 22; a typical Wang Bingrong carving, it is also catalogued as having a four-character Qianlong mark.
Wang Bingrong worked at a time when collectors were beginning to buy snuff bottles more as collector's items than necessarily for use, and sought out old bottles specifically. During his lifetime, the application of fake reign marks, mostly of the Qianlong but also of the Yongzheng period and even the Kangxi, became common. As a commercial potter, Wang was not above working for this market on occasion.
It seems that among his impressive, honestly marked output, Wang produced a series of dragon-decorated bottles for the court, probably for the Daoguang emperor, in a range of different colours and of two main types. This bottle and the other two in the Bloch Collection (Treasury 6, nos. 1358 and 1359) represent one standard: a rounded-rectangular form, reticulated, double body, and three alternative dragon designs. The other two dragon designs are one with the beast facing in the opposite direction (see for instance Geng Baochang and Zhao Binghua 1992, no. 161, featuring a five-clawed dragon and turquoise-blue glaze) and a rare version where the dragon-head turns back and is upside down as it twists across its own body to reach for the pearl (Sin, Hui, and Kwong, 1996, no. 124). The second main type is a compressed, somewhat elongated ovoid form tapering to a cylindrical neck (Geng Baochang and Zhao Binghua 1992, no. 162, also with a five-clawed dragon), but without the double body. A similar bottle, although unsigned, is Treasury 6, no. 1361, with its rare two-tone grey biscuit design.
In each case the dragons are distinctive, with substantial bodies very neatly covered in small scales, powerful limbs, and unusual heads, mouths open with two serious buck teeth in the upper jaw above four in the lower, the tongue sticking out between them and whiskers drooping down beside the jowls and being swept backwards by the force of its flight. The wrinkled nose consists predominantly of just two nostrils on the short snout, above which are two bulging eyes, the pupils glazed in black. Wang's dragons are like no others, and it is easy to see why these noble creatures would have earned him repeated imperial orders.
Although the designs for this series of dragon bottles are continuous, the obvious backs of the bottles are decorated just with a series of formalized clouds and flames, the flames placed in groups in order to vary the design of clouds although, again, no two are the same.
王炳榮這系列內外二層雲龍紋煙壺有施各別顏色釉的。淡黃的有﹕蘇富比，倫敦，1986年5 月6日，拍賣品號297；蘇富比，紐約，1988年11月22日，拍賣品號1、262；蘇富比，倫敦，1995年6月21日，拍賣品號151；蘇富比，紐約，1996年9 月17日，拍賣品號127；Dennis Low 2002， 編號187；《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 2001年秋期，頁36，圖6b；Perry 1960， 編號64；蘇富比，紐約，1998年9月15日，拍賣品號179（無款而顯然為王炳榮作）；Friedman 1990, 編號129。綠松石色的有﹕Treasury 6, 編號1358；蘇富比，紐約，1994年6 月1日，拍賣品號706（龍顧後）； 香港1977，編號70（標題不提及名款，但明明是王炳榮龍的風格）；Ford 1982， 編號166。還有更淡的綠松石色的，如Treasury 6，編號1359；冼祖謙、許建勳、鄺溥銘 1996， 編號124；蘇富比，香港，1989情11 月16日，拍賣品號120；Kleiner 1993， 編號19。焦糖色的有﹕Hall 2001, 編號53；Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, 編號248； Hui and Sin 1994, 編號33（《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 2000年秋期，頁18，圖7亦載）；蘇富比，倫敦，1983年12月5日，拍賣品號5（或無款，然肯定為王炳榮作）；Etude Jutheau, 巴黎，1992年11 月20日，拍賣品號45；北京翰海，1996年10月24日，拍賣品號22（無款，然肯定為王炳榮作）；Randall and Ju 1991, 編號24。仿翡翠的有﹕Stevens 1976, 編號265（亦見於蘇富比，紐約，1982年6月25日，拍賣品號69、蘇富比，紐約，1982年11月3日，拍賣品號97）；Hamilton 1977， 頁116，P9（有款）、P10（無款）；蘇富比，紐約，1987年6月5 日，拍賣品號5，由Szerkeres珍藏。也有素燒坯的，如﹕Kleiner 1997, 編號94，再出現於蘇富比，倫敦，1979年1月23日，拍賣品號36。還有有特出的米色地青龍煙壺，佳士得，紐約，1992年12 月3日，拍賣品號378, 即Lawrence 1995，編號77。有的例子因為照相的關系不能辨明是甚麼顏色，如﹕《國際中國鼻煙壺協會的學術期刊》Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 1987年秋期，頁12，圖19、20；同，1976年12月，頁19，圖60。
這批雲龍煙壺有帶乾隆年款的， 如﹕J.W.A. International 2000， 編號5與封面；蘇富比，奧林匹亞，2003年6月13日，拍賣品號811；China Guardian, 1986年4月20日，拍賣品號836； 蘇富比，比林赫斯特，1991年6月25 日，拍賣品號221。據蘇富比．帕克．波納，紐約，1974年11月21日，拍賣品號22的記錄，王炳榮典型雕風的仿翡翠獅子煙壺有四字乾隆年款。王炳榮活躍的時期就是收藏家開始購買鼻煙壺的時候，假冒的乾隆年款、雍正年款、甚至康熙年款有如雨後春筍，王炳榮也是以雕藝營生，有時也會斡出些魚目混珠。