Metallic, yellowish-green, metallic-grey, cinnabar-red, gold, and black lacquer, and textile; with flat lip and flat foot; moulded in the form of a formalized melon flower containing two peaches and two melons, surrounding a bottle of vertically fluted form, probably intended as a further formalized melon, the inner bottle painted grey, the peaches and outer leaf in shaded grey and cinnabar-red, with gold details, the two smaller melons in yellowish-green with gold details, all on a black under layer; the interior black Probably imperial, 17501800 Height: 6.04 cm Mouth/lip: 0.50/1.53 cm Stopper: tourmaline
Condition: insignificant tiny chip on flat foot; minor wear to protruding surfaces. General relative condition: excellent
Provenance: Sotheby's, London, 7 June 1990, lot 383
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum of Singapore, November 1994January 1995 British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
Commentary: This and Sale 1, lot 105 (Treasury 7, no. 1530) are, with Treasury 7, no. 1529, three of the most intriguing lacquer bottles in the collection. None of them is marked, but all three combine to give the impression of an imperial group, particularly when linked to a series that remains in the imperial collection in Beijing (Li Jiufang 2002, nos. 398402), in which all have what appear to be original stoppers made in lacquer but imitating gilt bronze. The first of the Beijing bottles is a double gourd painted with gold bats and clouds, another example of which is published in Geng and Zhao 1992, no. 411, also with its original stopper; and we must also link to the group the bottle decorated with bats in the J & J Collection (Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, no. 308). The group as a whole fits comfortably into the broad Fuzhou output of lacquered-textile bottles during the Qianlong period.
What the J & J example and those in the imperial collection share are original stoppers of a distinctly palace type. Each of the stoppers on the bottles in Beijing appears to be made of lacquer, but imitating gilt bronzealthough two seem to imitate the form of a gilt cabochon set into a gilt-bronze collar. The J & J bottle has a similarly Beijing-style stopper, of official's-hat shape, but without gilding. It is lacquered an overall green colour.
An intriguing feature of this particular bottle throws no light whatsoever on its origins, but does seem to suggest a rather practical-minded lacquerer. Inside is a series of small, pebble-like objects of irregular shapes, all slightly larger than the mouth of the bottle, so they cannot be removed. They shake about and make a rattling sound now that there is no snuff in the bottle, and seemingly could only have been inserted before the two halves of the bottle were joined. Their only possible purpose would be practical: to keep the snuff free of lumps, or to loosen any remaining snuff that might cling to the walls. If this were a problem, these irregular lumps would be a splendid solution. If so, however, why do we not encounter them more often?
The design here is unique for the group, consisting of a variety of symbolic fruits and leaves. The peach represents, as always, longevity. The large and small melons (gua, die) summon up the idiomatic expression guadie mianmian, which symbolizes an extended family line akin to the many melons growing from a single vine each year. The large flower supporting these fruits illustrates the natural process of plant growth: a fruit develops from a flower after pollination and fertilization. Its presence enhances the idea of fertility. Another unique fruit-form bottle of this group, in the form of a lizhi (litchi) with leaves and its original, stalk-form stopper, was in Christie's, South Kensington, 30 March 2000, lot 47.