Mother-of-pearl and wood; with a flat lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a flat footrim; with mother-of-pearl panels inset on each main side, each carved with a typical literati painting scene, one with two scholars just beyond a small grove of trees, chatting by the window of a thatched pavilion set on stilts in the waters of a river, on the far side of which an open, thatched pavilion stands on a plateau atop a cliff, a foreground bank sporting a small tree, three cone-shaped peaks rising in the distance, the other main side with a similar gorge scene with three scholars seated in two pavilions built on sloping stone pedestals in the waters of a river, with a covered skiff moored at the base of one, a foreground bank with two trees, and two smaller ones on the opposite bank, with a towering cliff opposite the houses and, beyond that, a plateau on another cliff, on which another thatched open pavilion stands, with two distant cone-shaped mountains whose tops disappear into formalized clouds; the wooden narrow sides carved with long panels of formalized waves terminating near the base with a formalized, lingzhi shaped frame; the foot engraved in regular script, Qianlong nian zhi (Made during the Qianlong period) The Yaji Master, Japan, 18541920 Height: 7.15 cm Mouth/lip: 0.6/1.6 cm Stopper: glass; ivory collar
Condition: crack running across the lip and down the neck to the panel on opposite sides; otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Hong Kong Auctioneers, 15 January 1993, lot 351 Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd (1993)
Exhibited: British Museum, London, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, JulyNovember 1997
Commentary: A series of these mother-of-pearl and wood bottles is known, and all appear to be by the same hand. For others, see Perry 1960, p. 119, no. 119; Stevens 1976, 791; Low 2002, no. 291 (an unusual example with inset mother-of-pearl side panels as well); Souksi 2000, no. 65 (from the Fulford and Caishi xuan collections); Stevens 1976, no. 791 (with an unusual red colour to the mother-of-pearl that gives a striking effect); Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 3, p. 39, fig. 34 (from the Gerry P. Mack Collection); Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, 12 May 1970, lot 492 (an extremely rare example from the Claar Collection, with images of two fish inlaid as panels on the double-fish shaped bottle); Ford 1982, no. 78; and Christie's, London, 12 October 1987, lot 144 (an unusual compressed spherical version with a figure on a horse, from the Dwyer Collection). There is also one rare example where the mother-of-pearl has been coloured with what appear to be the same pigments as those used on a large series of Japanese ivory bottles, setting up another possible link among the varied output of Japanese artists (Sotheby's, New York, 6 April 1990, lot 335). Others exist with a lac-burgauté design on the narrow sides and shoulders. (See, for instance, JICSBS, Winter 2001, p. 35, fig. 5, and Hamilton 1977, p. 16, no. O-80; Sotheby's, London, 13 October 1987, lot 81, a spectacular example using the natural darker colours in the shell to great effect; Sotheby's, London, 24 June 1975, lot 107; and Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 3, inside front cover.) The same artist also occasionally worked in a dark, blackish-brown horn, coconut shell (see Treasury 7, no. 1718), and bamboo (no. 1719).
The careful removal of one panel on this bottle revealed that the interior was formed by removing material via the sides of a single block of wood and the neck was drilled for the mouth. A shelf-like area was left around the opening on each side with a raised lip all around; when the panels were fixed in place, they sat on the shelf and protruded only a few millimetres above the raised lip. This is the obvious way to construct such a bottle, but since the century-old glue had left one panel a little loose in any case, it seemed only sensible to succumb to the temptation to prize it gently off for confirmation.
The mother-of-pearl imparts a delightful dimension to the Yaji Master's carvings, and he seems to have made full use of it. When of very pure, bright material like this, it lends a daytime light to the scene as the bottle is moved in the hand, with the shifting, subtle pinks and greens shimmering across the surface detail, while the use of particoloured shell is even more dramatic in its effect.
The cone-shaped distant mountains appearing on this and other mother-of-pearl scenes from this carver's output are quite distinctive. They are evocative of certain artists' depictions of Mount Fuji that exaggerate the pitch of the famous volcano's slopes.
Yaji was the term for an elegant gathering, and since the main theme of this artist's work is groups of literati enjoying themselves, we have coined for him the name the Yaji Master. He worked at the same time as the other major Japanese producers of snuff bottles for an export market. One of his bottles was auctioned in New York from the collection of Kano Oshima in 1924 (Glickman 2006, p. 109, fig. 3.4).