Qiandaoren seal mark, possibly Imperial, Jingdezhen, 1840-1910 6.46cm high.
Treasury 6, no. 1404
An emerald-green porcelain 'dragons' snuff bottle
Crackled emerald-green glaze on porcelain; with a convex lip and recessed flat foot surrounded by a very slightly protruding convex footrim; carved with a continuous design of two imperial five-clawed dragons chasing a flaming pearl with a background of formalized clouds and flames above four rocky peaks rising from formalized waves; the foot engraved in seal script, Qiandaoren zhi ('Made for/by the man who submerges himself in the Way') in a rounded rectangular cartouche; all interior and exterior surfaces except the footrim covered in glaze Possibly imperial, associated with Qiandaoren, Jingdezhen, 18401910 Height: 6.46 cm Mouth/lip: 1.65/2.23 cm Stopper: glass; stained plastic finial; plastic collar
Condition: very minor wear to the lip; two areas of brown discoloration on the reverse side; one small chip towards the tip of the dragon's horn on the right; the tip of the dragon's horn on the left is missing; some wear to relief areas
Provenance: Sotheby's, London, 6 March 1979, lot 105 The White Wings Collection Robert Kleiner (1998)
Two other bottles bear this signature and are of the same subject, although the compositions differ and the others have more emphatic relief. One was illustrated in JICSBS, Summer 1994, p. 1, and is in the style of the individualist carvers of the nineteenth century; it is covered with a pale yellow glaze characteristic of many of their works. The other is covered with an imitation jadeite glaze (also popular with the nineteenth-century porcelain-carving group); formerly in the Rotholtz Collection, it is now part of a private Canadian collection. This distinctive shape became popular in ceramics during the mid-nineteenth century. It was adopted from an eighteenth-century palace form found in glass and hardstones.
The glaze here may have been intended to imitate jadeite, although not of the mottled type commonly imitated by the nineteenth-century porcelain carvers. The present example and the Rotholtz one both have a very wide mouth, a feature that we know was popular on snuff pots of the Daoguang period; we suspect a production date in the late Daoguang or Xianfeng reign would be the most likely. Leaving aside the signature on three of these bottles, there is little doubt that they are from the same hand, as the style is identical and the main dragons similarly disposed. All are spectacularly well-carved, dynamic compositions.
The five-clawed dragons on two of them, combined with the imperial yellow colour of the other example, suggest work for a member of the imperial family. Such protocols may have eroded during the mid-Qing dynasty, particularly for wares designed to be sold to foreign collectors, and forgers making bottles with fake reign marks would purposefully use the imperial colour, but it would seem unwise for anyone to usurp the imperial dragon and colour and then sign his name, even right at the end of the Qing.
See lot 111 in this sale for speculations on the identity of Qiandaoren, 'The Man Who Submerges Himself in the Way'. We have previously read this name as meaning 'Man-of-the-Way Qian', as if Qian were a surname; it is, but it is a rare one. Lot 111 is dated 1898.