Nephrite of pebble material; well hollowed and carved in the form of a reclining beast, possibly intended to be a tiger 17001850 Length: 6.2 cm Mouth: 0.42 cm Stopper: gilt-porcelain, moulded with a formalized floral design with integral finial and collar; by John Charlton, London, circa 1970
Condition: Small chips between the two fangs of the beast and the side of the back foot, although possibly just flaws in the stone; otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (London) J & J Collection Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (London, 1984) Robert Hall (1984)
Exhibited: British Museum, JuneOctober 1995 Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1997
This is of the same material as Auction 1, lot 75; Auction 3, lot 1; and Auction 4, lot 153,and it may possibly be of the same group as the Master of the Rocks school, but this is difficult to determine without any of the landscape, myth and genre detail that are, apart from the use of this material, the main characteristics of the school. It is probably more likely that it is simply similar material crafted somewhere else.
The beast is probably intended to be a tiger, but it may also be a dog, although its large claws and enormous fangs would make it a pretty terrifying one. With an unusual sculpture like this, particularly in an ancient-looking material (part of the pebble skin is naturally calcified in much the same way as burial jades are after centuries in the earth), there is always the possibility that it is an earlier free-standing sculpture, perhaps a scholar's plaything or paperweight. Three factors suggest that it is not. The material is none too common in pre-Qing jade carving (although see a magnificent monkey and peach from the McElney Collection attributable to the Yuan or Ming period and illustrated in colour by Watt 1980, no. 69). The style of carving, with the realistically depicted beast lying straight out with its tail curled back in a rigid line along its backbone, would be highly unlikely for a non-snuff bottle. Free-standing creatures of this ilk, whether earlier or even Qing, tend to be less formally sculpted, their tails to one side or other of their flanks. They also have a greater feeling of realism to the pose, whereas here the form is ideal for a snuff bottle but perhaps awkward as an independent animal sculpture. The mouth of the bottle fits almost perfectly into the mouth of the beast, which would be open too wide for a formal sculpture that was not intended as a bottle, and the upper lip is very slightly curved around the upper curve of the mouth of the bottle. It could have been made at any time from the early eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century.
The naturalness of the skin colour here is beyond doubt. It has immense character, is full of flaws and variations in the texture and colour, and sinks into the stone to a far greater extent than an artificial surface colouring.