Nephrite of pebble material; very well hollowed with a recessed foot 17201850 Height: 5.7 cm Mouth/lip: 0.71/1.60 cm Stopper: stained chalcedony; silver collar
Condition: Possible ground out tiny chip in outer lip where skin is, so it might just be a softer spot and part of the process of manufacture. Otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Edmund F. Dwyer Christie's, London, 12 October 1987, lot 227
Published: Kleiner 1995, no. 70 Treasury 1, no. 8
Exhibited: British Museum, JuneOctober 1995
Commentary This bottle stands almost exactly between two extremes that make up the normal range of plain bottles carved from nephrite pebbles. The first group includes rather formal bottles that usually have only one irregular face to allow for the maximum use of skin colour. These all have a foot, although it is sometimes also irregular on one side to match the skin surface. The other extreme consists of bottles that were not meant to stand and have no defined neck or foot. They are usually made using most of a small pebble with only minor editing for formal ends. There are several of these in the imperial collection, even though the colour on many of them seems to have been either entirely contrived or enhanced artificially (Chang Lin-sheng 1991, nos. 113 (a set of ten), 129, 132, 159 (a set of ten), 163165). This example has the irregular form of the latter group, but the neck and foot of the former.
With its eccentric form, lovely skin colouring extensively spread across two sides of the bottle, superb hollowing, and soft polish, this is one of the great pebble bottles. The colouring is sumptuous and beautifully textured, and it even varies from one side to the other, the skin having quite different qualities of texture and colour. The colour here appears to be entirely natural, although we stress the difficulty in judging in many cases where natural skin is skillfully enhanced by additional colour. The natural colour of the skin seems to be revealed beyond question, however, in two places. At the neck, where the pebble is cut through to form the lip, the cross-section of the lip shows the depth to which the natural staining has sunk into the white stone, exactly matching the markings on the other side. Artificial colouring would not tend to sink so deeply and specifically into one area of the jade. At the foot, the carver has used the unusual technique of continuing the line of the receding face of the bottle onto the foot, which is chamfered to match. This gives the impression that the footrim was almost stolen out of the form on that side, and in the groove that forms the foot the paler colour deeper in the stone is revealed, again showing the depth to which the skin has affected the white jade and the naturalness of the pigmentation.