A white and russet nephrite 'gourd vines' snuff bottle
Master of the Rocks school, 17401850 6.04cm high.
Treasury 1, no. 143
A nephrite pebble-material 'gourd vine' snuff bottle
Nephrite of pebble material; very well hollowed, with a recessed foot; carved on one side with nine double gourds growing on a vine, a flaw on one shoulder extending onto the lower neck carved as a trailing vine and on the other with two squirrels on a grape vine, with another flaw in a similar position also carved as a trailing vine, the narrow sides with mask-and-ring handles Master of the Rocks school, 17401850 Height: 6.04 cm Mouth/lip: 0.50 cm/1.75 cm Stopper: jadeite; silver collar
Condition: Minute nibbles on side of the foot base; tiny chip in the base of the neck; some possible damage to the tendrils of the gourds on the top left; otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Rare Art (New York, 1979) Gerd Lester (1986)
Published: Lester 1981, p. 34, middle row, right Kleiner 1987, no. 50 Treasury 1, no. 143
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd, London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993
At first glance, this bottle would appear to have very little to do with the group for which we have coined the name the Master of the Rocks school (see, for example, lot 50 in Sale 3), mainly because the material and subject matter are not characteristic. But although the colour of the pebble-material is unusual for the school, its use is not. The form was a popular one for the broader group, with its slightly rounded rectangular shape and relief on one or both main sides. The pebble skin is also employed to great effect as a main decorative element on one side, which is common enough for certain wares of the school, and stylistically there are sufficient similarities for an entirely confident attribution. The bottle is of excellent formal integrity although rather more rectangular than is normal for the school. It is very well hollowed through a narrow mouth, which is not only common for this school but also suggests that its main output was from the Qianlong era, when this feature seems to have been particularly popular.
What cements the attribution, however, is the style of the mask handles. The masks have ears that are of the distinctive style found on those bottles of this school that have mask-and-ring handles, long and drooping. The masks here also have a strong individual personality.
Both main surfaces are extremely well conceived and carved, which is again standard for the school, with the use of the skin particularly brilliant. It has been suggested that the skin is stained, but in fact there is no indication of this, and it would, in any case, be unusual for this school if it were (although a few are stained). The entirely natural-looking skin is miraculously used to show the nine double gourds mostly in a pale colour set against a darker vine, and it is perhaps this extraordinary and painterly use of the material that led to the belief that it might have been achieved by staining. It is certainly difficult to imagine how the artist could have achieved so stunning an effect without the aid of artificial colour, but with this school unusually artistic use of the natural material is standard.