Probably school of the Rustic Crystal Master, 17701880 5.2cm high.
Treasury 2, no. 192
An amethyst snuff bottle
('The Count Blucher Pebble Amethyst')
Amethyst; not extensively hollowed, with an irregular, flat foot; carved in low relief, using natural flaws in the material, to depict a small, upward-jutting rock on which stands a crane looking down at another standing at the base of the rock. Probably school of the Rustic Crystal Master, 17701880 Height: 5.2 cm Mouth: 0.4 cm Stopper: tourmaline
Condition: Small abrasion/chip to mouth; otherwise, in workshop condition
Provenance: Sydney L. Moss Ltd. Kurt Graf Blucher von Wahlstatt (Count Blucher) Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1971) Heflene Collection (V. Meglys) Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1985)
Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, MarchJune 1994 National Museum, Singapore, November 1994February 1995 University of Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery 1997
Commentary Although early amethyst bottles are known in reasonable numbers, they are not nearly as common as clear crystal or brown crystal, or even the rarer hair-crystal. Sometime during the late nineteenth century, larger quantities of amethyst, of a generally darker, duller but more even colour than that traditionally available, began to be used by Chinese lapidaries (for a bottle of this later material, see Moss 1971a, no. 89). We have a reasonable body of finely made amethyst bottles from at least the mid-Qing period onwards, and probably from an earlier date if only we could distinguish the earlier phase of plain hardstone bottles from their later counterparts.
Amethyst usually occurs in cavities or caves in rocks or in hollow spaces inside boulders of rock. The densely packed crystals grow into the empty space, and, as a rule, the brighter amethyst colouring is found mostly in the upper area of the crystal, resulting frequently in considerable variation in colour in a single crystal, particularly those large enough to provide material for works of art of any size. This distinctive variegation also arises from a remarkable twinning of the crystal that allows for coloured and colourless areas to form together. In a parti-coloured crystal such divisions tend to be either straight or at about 60o. Early bottles in this material are frequently striated in this way. Reasonably flawless, brilliantly coloured material was obviously a rarity to the early Chinese lapidary. For other bottles in amethyst, showing the range of colours available in early examples, see no. 243 and, in Moss, Graham, and Tsang 1993, nos. 102 and 103.
This example is unusual for a number of reasons. It is of pebble form, probably dictated by the available material of even and exciting colour in the crystal. Resembling a pebble in its shape and clearly not a fruit form because of the relief carving of cranes on its surface (so discreet as to have been entirely missed in the caption of one of the publications in which it appeared in the past), this is properly described as a pebble bottle, even though amethyst was usually mined rather than found as pebbles, like nephrite. It is of unusually brilliant and even colour with slight icy flaws running throughout, with one small, more obviously flawed area inspiring the decoration. It stands as one of the few bottles in this material that aspire to a gem-like brilliance and colour. It is also identified by the style of carving as probably coming from the large school of crystal and other hardstone carving we call the School of the Rustic Crystal Master. Many of the masterpieces in amethyst snuff bottles are from this school (no. 103 in the J & J Collection is one of them, also of unusually brilliant material). Wherever the school was active, perhaps there was a particular local taste for the mineral, or, indeed, local availability of raw material.
The hollowing of this example has clearly been dictated not by any restraints of technique or lack of commitment but by colour. This school often hollowed out such bottles very well in terms of technique and internal form but left a thick wall to retain maximum lustre and brilliance.