Yixing, 17801900 7.92 cm high. (including original stopper)
Treasury 6, no. 1464
An Yixing stoneware 'aubergine' snuff bottle
Dark and lighter brown stoneware; with a flat lip; carved in the form of an eggplant with a severed leafy branch wrapped around the calyx of the fruit; the branch, leaves and calyx in the darker material Yixing, 17801900 Height: 7.92 cm. (including original stopper) Mouth/lip: 0.74/1.10 cm Stopper: Dark-brown stoneware; carved as a part of the calyx and stalk and pierced for a cord; with integral cork; original
Condition: Small chip to the end of the severed branch, not obtrusive. General relative condition: excellent
Provenance: Paula J. Hallett Hugh Moss (HK) Ltd. (1986)
Exhibited: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, October 1987 Creditanstalt, Vienna, MayJune 1993
This bottle is unsigned, with no identifying inscription of any sort, and it is made from two colours of clay that could have been used at any time during the Qing dynasty. We can reasonably rule out a date earlier than the late eighteenth century on the grounds that no recognizable Yixing snuff bottles were made before the second half of the Qianlong period, and because the likely influence leading to this bottle was probably a range of naturalistic jade carvings produced in relatively large quantities during the Qianlong reign. While it is conceivable that this was an individual potter's response to this Imperial fashion late in the eighteenth century, it is far more likely to date from the nineteenth century. The rather crisp, finely detailed style, which is unlike that of any bottles that are likely to date from the first half of the century, may even suggest a late-Qing date. The condition certainly does not speak of years of wear.
The quality is impressive, with a faultlessly formed fruit in rich, purplish-brown stoneware detailed with darker, very convincingly carved branch, leaves, and calyx. There is also a rather clever artistic touch that reflects the nature of the Yixing potters at their best: They were art potters, creating individual works of art, and they were therefore inventive. The severed stem, from which the leafy branches grow, is there for a purpose, and serves it well. The stem is placed so that it supports the bottle in an ideal horizontal position when set down. Without it, the fruit would slump towards the stopper, which would look alright for an eggplant, of course, but not for a work of art. With the stalk where it is, the bottle 'poses' when it is set down and assumes the position dictated by the artist. Works such as this are in a different class of art from the characteristic decorative enamelled wares of the area.
The bottle was constructed from two halves luted together along the longer axis of the bottle, in the standard way for compressed ceramic forms. The ridges on the inside are clearly visible, even though the outside surfaces have been pared smooth, leaving not a trace of a join.
The stopper has been drilled to take a thin cord, perhaps with a view to attaching it by a long cord to the free-standing section of the severed branch that forms a loop close to the stopper. This might have made it a trifle less convenient to use, even a little cumbersome, but it would ensure that the stopper did not become lost as indeed it has not, although, ironically, the cord is lost.