Jadeite; extremely well hollowed, with a concave foot 17701850 Height: 5.94 Mouth/lip: 1.31/2.18 cm Stopper: amber; tourmaline finial; vinyl collar
Condition: Material: a series of natural flaws. Bottle: workshop condition. Stopper: the tourmaline finial was added after photographs for this sale were made
Provenance: Lilla S. Perry Edmund F. Dwyer Christie's, London, 12 October 1987, lot 231
Published: In Focus, Newsletter of the Gemological Institute of America (?), Winter 1985 1986, front cover Treasury 1, no. 171
Commentary Jadeite tends to have greater transparency than nephrite and a range of spectacular colours that are not found in nephrite, such as emerald-green, lavender, lilac (see Sale 1, lot 32), and blue. There is also a red variety that closely resembles in colour the skin of the richer pebble-materials in nephrite, but it is the actual colour of the stone rather than a metamorphosis of the surface. Emerald-green jadeite, so highly valued for jewellery, owes its colour to the presence of chromium, which is also the colouring-agent in emeralds. The common term for jadeite in China from the late eighteenth century onwards was feicui, although there is some confusion over the term, since it was used earlier for a type of green nephrite from the traditional source in Chinese Turkestan.
This bottle confirms the existence of red jadeite among the earliest identifiable group of jadeite bottles. Relations with Burma had been normalized in 1784, presumably opening up the borders for greater trade than could have occurred unofficially before that date, when relations between the two countries were strained if not bellicose. We also have the account of an eighteenth-century writer to confirm that by that time jadeite had become a very popular and highly valued alternative form of jade, whereas previously it had been considered as a kind of false jade of no great value (see Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, p. 122). Jadeite must have been known before the late Qianlong period in order for it be considered false jade, but it is unlikely that a whole series of superbly made bottles would have been produced before the change in attitude toward it. The most likely beginning of this production, therefore, would probably be the late eighteenth century, perhaps the last three decades, with production increasing after the establishment of official trade relations in 1784. That would accord with the reasonable range of well-made and often extremely well-hollowed jadeite bottles, many of which have very wide mouths, like this example. They would all fit comfortably into the time span from the late-Qianlong to the end of the Daoguang period, and their continued popularity during the latter reign is demonstrated in a portrait of the Daoguang emperor himself about to take snuff from a plain, presumably stone bottle with just such a wide mouth (Snuff Bottles of the Ch'ing Dynasty, p. 12).
This is the only red jadeite bottle recorded with both virtuoso hollowing and a wide mouth that can unquestionably be associated with the earliest phase of popular jadeite snuff-bottle production. Other red jadeite bottles are known, although they are far rarer than their emerald- or apple-green counterparts, but most are no more than well hollowed and have normal-sized mouths. Red jadeite is very rarely red all over, and even when it is, the intensity of the colour varies considerably. It is more commonly found in association with areas of this dull, brownish grey-green colour and is frequently flawed, as is a great deal of exotically coloured jadeite in larger specimens. The use of the term 'red' is slightly euphemistic, since the colour is usually a bright russet reddish-brown colour rather than a true red. But it is red enough, and the colour is distinctive and well known among collectors of Qing jadeite, so it serves as a useful term.
Apart from snuff bottles, other small carvings are known in the material, notably dragon-design belt buckles, but again, none is known that would be likely to predate the late eighteenth century, and most are probably nineteenth century.
The virtuoso hollowing of this example is quite impressive. The depth of hollowing is 5.78 cm, while the overall height of the bottle is 5.94, leaving only 0.16 cm as the thickness of the foot, out of which the shallow concavity of the foot is taken.
The use of the material is also imaginative, with the thin but intense area of red concentrated entirely on one side, leaving only a halo of the duller colour for the shoulders, neck. and a sliver of one side when viewed from the front. Formally, like so many of this group, it is a delight, with perfect symmetry applied to a generously plump form. The wide mouth makes an enormous difference to the appeal of these bottles when the stopper is out, which is a mode in which the original users would have seen the bottle far more often than perhaps we collectors do. It adds to the sense of generosity in the form and seems to suggest lavishness and largess: one can imagine the original owner freely doling out Larger-than-normal portions of snuff both for himself and for his friends. They are somehow rather more carefree than bottles with smaller mouths.