A cinnabar and gold lacquer 'figures' snuff bottle
The Gold and Cinnabar Master, Japan, 18541920 6.12cm high.
Treasury 7, no. 1699
Cinnabar red, dark brown, and gold lacquer on wood or textile; with a flat lip and recessed concave foot surrounded by a protruding flat footrim; carved on each main side with a garden scene, one with a woman holding a feather fan and wearing an elaborate headdress, seated resting her left arm on a natural-rock or entwined-root table on which is set a bowl containing two peaches and leaves, with a pine tree growing behind her to our right and a clump of grass or other leaves to our left, the table top with a fylfot (swastika) diaper, the ground and space beyond each with a different formalized floral diaper, the other main side with two boys beneath a pine tree, with a similar clump of grass and the same two diaper designs for ground and distance, with details in each panel painted in gold, the scalloped frame also in gold, the panels surrounded by formalized clouds floating on a formalized floral diaper; the neck and base each with a band of double-unit leiwen (thunder pattern); the lip painted gold; the inside neck, red; the interior, dark brown The Gold and Cinnabar Master, Japan, 18541920 Height: 6.12 cm Mouth/lip: 0.75/1.49 cm Stopper: ivory, pink pigment, soapstone, and pearls, the cabochons of stone and small seed-pearls inset into a carved ground of formalized cloud design; coral finial; Japan, 18541940, possibly original
Condition: nibbles to the lacquer around the inner lip, and a small chip of red enamel missing from the inside of the neckirrelevant, given its position; two small chips to one edge of the frame (upper right on the side with the two boys) with some loss of both gold and red; some scratches to gold enamel in the foot inside the footrim; otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Hartman Trading Co., New York (1959) Gerd Lester (1986)
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993
Commentary: A second identifiable group of the lacquer bottles, quite distinct in style from Treasury 7, no. 1698, lot 150 in this sale, is represented here. There is a small group of them, all obviously from the same hand. One is in Friedman 1990, no. 95; also in Hall 1989, no. 24; Hall 2003, no. 125; and Sotheby's, London, 23 March 1988, lot 341. Two more were in the Gerry P. Mack Collection (Chinese Snuff Bottles No. 3, p. 43, figs. 44 and 46, one of which also appeared in Christie's, South Kensington, 4 October 1999, lot 149). One is in the Lionel Copley Collection (Arts of Asia, SeptemberOctober 2005, p. 113, lower left), and one more is in the Barron Collection, the panels surrounded by a design of five-clawed, gold-lacquer dragons amidst cinnabar red clouds, one panel with Zhong Kui, the other with a scholar riding on a carp. Another related bottle, but of a different colour combination, is in Sotheby's, New York, 22 September 1995, lot 148. They are characterized by their use of cinnabar-red and gold lacquer; panels of decoration, sometimes, as here, in a scalloped or foliate frame; and leiwen at the neck and base painted in gold. The style is very obviously different from the lacquer wares of the school of the Imperial Master. Because of this artist's use of gold and cinnabar lacquer together, we have coined the name the 'Gold and Cinnabar Master' for him. The workmanship is extremely impressive if judged by Chinese lacquer-carving standards, but in Japan, where lacquer, along with most other arts and crafts, was refined to an obsessive level of perfection during the late nineteenth century, this level of artistry would not have seemed unusual. One impressive feature of his work is the clever, and typically Japanese, sense of design where the two colours have been cleverly balanced against each other to maximum abstract effect. The combination of gold and cinnabar lacquer is sumptuous, and it is perhaps surprising that it did not occur more often on Chinese snuff bottles, although, to be fair, the gilt-bronze lips and stoppers on the Chinese bottles dress them up nicely. The carving of the diaper grounds is also extremely well done throughout the group, notwithstanding that, as usual, the meaning of the diaper grounds has been somewhat lost in translation. A floral diaper, reserved in Chinese art for the flat ground plane, is used here for ground, background sky (or possibly water), and for the surrounding design of sky beneath the clouds.
Another point very much in favour of the bottles in this group is that, although none is signed, they do not bear apocryphal Chinese reign marks. The artist may have failed to identify himself with his Japanese name, but at least he has not tried to pretend that he was working in China in the Qianlong period. Finally, of course, and very much in their favour, is that they are far rarer than the works of the Imperial Master.
The idea behind the subject here is readily recognizable as a typically Chinese one, of a woman and her sons playing in a garden setting. The artist has split the scene into two, which would be unusual in a Chinese version, putting the two sons on one side, the woman on the other. He has also been unable to resist making the woman very elaborately and formally dressed, and giving her a rather impressive-looking hair do and headdress very much in the style of Japanese nobility.