Shale; adequately but not extensively hollowed; carved in the form of a cicada 17801920 Length: 6.95 cm Mouth: 0.54 cm Stopper: turquoise
Condition: Minor nibbling to the edges of the wings; general abrasions through use of the soft stone. General relative condition: good
Provenance: Jana Volf Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (1994)
Published: Treasury 3, no. 396
This is unique both as form and material among inkstone bottles. The cicada is known in a variety of other materials and was obviously a popular snuff-bottle form (see Sale 2, lot 34 for just one example). A piece of layered shale, or inkstone, has been cut diagonally so that the layers of different colour provide curving forms through the body of the bottle, which is spectacularly laid out so that the back of the head is made up of concentric circles natural to the stone, and the wings have sweeping curves in contrasting colours, adding considerable energy to the form.
The material may be from Duanzhou, about 40 km west of Guangzhou (Canton). Although Duanstone, a prized material for making the stones on which one grinds ink sticks with a little water, is typically of a purplish-brown range of colours, there are many varieties. Certainly the brown layers alone would be classified as Duanstone without hesitation, but there were other mines for this range of inkstone material, and we cannot be absolutely certain of a Duan source for this striated variety of the stone.
Jana Volf, well known to snuff-bottle enthusiasts for her catalogues for the Chinese Porcelain Company in New York, had a very small group of bottles that she kept for herself, amongst which this was a favourite. Sophisticated aesthetes like Jana tend to become very much a part of their art objects, and in that sense Jana still resides in this compelling little work of art.