Famille rose enamels on colourless glaze on porcelain; with a flat lip and recessed, very slightly convex foot surrounded by a protruding convex footrim; each main side with a raised convex circular panel painted with a waterside landscape scene, one with a riverside house surrounded by blossoming trees, a scholar at the window gazing out at three sailboats on the water, beyond which a temple pagoda rises in the distance from a level area on the far shore, the other with a man poling a partially covered skiff beneath a rocky cliff from which grow two ancient pines, partly obscuring a country residence, the panels surrounded by a moulded and gilt formalized floral design imitating gilt bronze; the foot inscribed in iron-red seal script with the reign mark Qianlong nian zhi ('Made during the Qianlong period'); the lip also painted gold; the inside of the neck with colourless enamel and the interior unglazed Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen, 1780 (probably 1795)1799 Height: 5.25 cm Mouth/lip: 0.70/1.32 cm Stopper: stained bone
Condition: minor wear to gold enamel on lip, and normal minor wear to protruding relief where gold enamelled, with greater wear to gold enamel on foot; normal abrasions to surface all over, but only visible with magnification. General relative condition: remarkably good
Provenance: Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 4 November 1996, lot 61
Published: Treasury 6, no. 1178
Commentary: Of all the known bottles with the reversed 'S' element in the Qian character of the seal-script reign mark, this was the one that seemed at first glance to be earlier than the abdication years (see under Treasury 6, no. 1177). The inspiration for both the type and the design are taken from the earlier Qianlong period. The panels are in the style of the Tang Ying porcelains represented by Treasury 6, nos. 11481150, while the gilt surrounds suggest the chased gold details on Beijing enamels on metal of the early reign, one group of which we believe was made in 1747 (see under Treasury 6, no. 1073). It soon becomes apparent, however, that the last decade of the eighteenth century is a more likely date for its production.
There is a known group of such bottles imitating chased gold, gilt bronze, enamelled metal and featuring panels of painted decoration. One of them, from the Mudge Collection (Chinese Snuff Bottles, no. 5, p. 74, fig 86), is painted with a European subject that seems to take its inspiration from the late-Qianlong designs that were derived from the early-Qianlong series of such subjects, although they have distinctive differences both in style and in the quality of the painting. It has the reversed 'S' element in the mark. European subjects of a very similar style appear on palace enamelled metal wares right at the end of the Qianlong period. The shapes on all of these ceramic bottles, regardless of subject, are very similar and were obviously inspired by palace-enamelled metal originals. On that basis, we can confidently date this to the tail end of the eighteenth century, and probably to the abdication years. Other genuine examples are in Stevens 1976, no. 950 (decorated with boys at play); Li Jiufang 2002, no. 320 (also with boys at play and still in the imperial collection; what appears to be a Republican copy of it is in Lin and Philips 1983, no. 103, where no mark is noted); Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 28 October 1993, lot 1257 (from the Eric Young Collection the closest to the present example in subject matter and style and also credibly worn, suggesting age ); Christie's, New York, 2 December 1994, lot 478 (a rare example with a panel of inscription only, now mostly worn away, followed by two iron-red seals, Qian and long, which are found in a similar position on other genuine late-Qianlong porcelain snuff bottles); and China Guardian, 27 October 1999, lot 1088 (another with European figures typical of palace-workshops style from the late Qianlong period, also with the reversed 'S' element). A related, entirely convincing bottle with panels of similar landscape scenes, but surrounded by a gold-enamelled iron-red ground and including a poem followed by the Qianlong emperor's seals, is in Hall 2003, no. 35, also illustrated in Jutheau 1980, p. 86 (centre left). A similar series of imitation metal surrounds is found on a group of small imperial porcelains from the Qianlong period; all obviously stem from the same notion of copying enamel-on-metal types. In the imperial collection there are, for instance, two small covered boxes, somewhat like two-tiered inro, and probably from earlier in the reign (Guoli Gugong bowuyuan 1986a, no. 147).
It is obvious from extant wares that the Qianlong emperor was deeply intrigued by the possibilities of ceramic production of snuff bottles late in his reign, vastly increasing the range and quantity produced at Jingdezhen. In those few years after his abdication he also had more time to devote to the arts while his son took over the arduous and time-consuming daily rituals of rule. Given the extraordinary condition of so many of the Tang Ying bottles and their predominance in the imperial collection today, we may assume that those precious early porcelain bottles had not been widely distributed as gifts, and that in the late Qianlong reign many were still in the palace to inspire new production. It would have been quite natural for the emperor to order a group of bottles with palace-enamelled-metal-style bodies and Tang Ying-style panels. The enamelling itself seems to confirm this. While excellent by late-Qianlong standards, and very much in the style of Tang Ying, the painting is less inspired. (To be sure, an accusation of being a lesser artist than Tang Ying comes close to being a compliment, insofar as it presupposes that one is even comparable.)