An inscribed olive-brown glass overlay 'spring and autumn scenes' snuff bottle Songtai, probably Yangzhou, 1810-1880
Lot 103
An inscribed olive-brown glass overlay 'spring and autumn scenes' snuff bottle Songtai, probably Yangzhou, 1810-1880
Sold for HK$ 137,500 (US$ 17,739) inc. premium

Lot Details
An inscribed olive-brown glass overlay 'spring and autumn scenes' snuff bottle Songtai, probably Yangzhou, 1810-1880 An inscribed olive-brown glass overlay 'spring and autumn scenes' snuff bottle Songtai, probably Yangzhou, 1810-1880 An inscribed olive-brown glass overlay 'spring and autumn scenes' snuff bottle Songtai, probably Yangzhou, 1810-1880 An inscribed olive-brown glass overlay 'spring and autumn scenes' snuff bottle Songtai, probably Yangzhou, 1810-1880
Snuff bottles formerly in the Mary and George Bloch collection (lots 100-146)
An inscribed olive-brown glass overlay 'spring and autumn scenes' snuff bottle
Songtai, probably Yangzhou, 1810-1880
Of flattened circular form with a flat lip and recessed convex foot, surrounded by a protruding flat footrim, carved as a single overlay on one main side with two magpies on the branches of a blossoming prunus tree, inscribed in relief seal script, 'A branch [exuding] spring fragrance, [by] Songtai', and on the other with two butterflies, two insects, two insect pots, one with its inner, perforated insect- guard set beside it, and a pair of brushes for inciting the insects to fight, inscribed in relief seal script '[An] autumn scene', followed, in relief draft script by the signature Songtai, and two seals, both in negative seal script, tu and ji (together meaning 'painting record') the narrow sides with mask-and-ring handles, the glass of an olive-brown and white.
5.6cm high.

Footnotes

  • Provenance 來源:
    Eugene Sung (1971)
    Thomas C. Van Nuys (1994)
    Robert Kleiner (1994)

    Illustrated 出版:
    Bob Stevens, The Collector's Book of Snuff Bottles, New York and Tokyo, 1976, no. 238
    Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, Autumn 1994, p. 35
    Hugh Moss, Victor Graham and Ka Bo Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles. The Mary and George Bloch Collection, Volume 5, Hong Kong, 2002, no. 1047
    Hugh Moss and Stuart Sargent, The World in a Bottle in the World at the End of the Qing Dynasty, part 2: Yangzhou Overlay Glass, Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, Spring 2011, fig. 36, middle row

    Exhibited 展覽:
    British Museum, London, June-October 1995
    Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July-November 1997

    Songtai may be the Lingnan art collector and painter Wu Yanliu (1848 – 1919). Because of the similarities between the two Bloch bottles bearing the name Songtai (plus a third from the Meriem Collection, with only the character song, plausibly made for the same individual) and the snuff bottles made for Li Peisong and Li Peizhen, probably in Yangzhou, it could be concluded that all of these glass-overlay bottles came from the same workshop. But, aside from the question of whether Wu Yanliu would have had bottles made for him at such a distant workshop (a question that may dissolve with further research), there are stylistic differences that could have any one of a number of plausible explanations.

    The pictorial approach on this example is remarkably realistic, and far more so than anything produced for the Li brothers. The two birds are perfectly balanced on the branch and very carefully depicted, leaving absolutely no doubt that they are magpies. The prunus tree is similarly well-observed, its main trunk entirely realistic, as are the customary smaller, younger shoots of blossoming branches issuing from it. The blossoms receive equally careful treatment, with flowers shown in various stages from bud to full bloom, and from various angles, displaying a degree of realism absent from the known works associated with the Li brothers. A feature on the other side may compared with the fruit in Sale 2, lot 76, which was made at the direction of Li Peisong (Yunting) for 'his own enjoyment'. A series of circular holes, cutting through the overlay colour, is employed to compose the perforated insect-guard and also the wings of the butterflies. On Li's bottle we find a series of irregular cuts showing the ground colour, whereas here they are neatly drilled, evenly-sized circles. The style of the mask handles also differs from that of Li's glassmaker, there being more evenly curled hair on the heads and more realistic detail, giving them a closer resemblance to their courtly counterparts than to the work done for Li.

    This is as painterly a depiction as are likely to be found in Chinese cameo-glass carving, conceived as a flat image simply projected into space by the fraction of a millimetre of the relief plane. The rest is achieved by the equivalent of ink tones, which are used here with great finesse. Shading of the overlay was all the artist needed to accentuate his details, which has been achieved with astonishing skill, indicating the work either of a fine painter, or one with a profound understanding of how to transfer painting skills onto glass. The central bird is rendered much darker against the pale trunk on which it perches and also the paler bird on the extremity of the main trunk. Balance is achieved by subtle variation in the heavily-flowering branch that stands up beside the darker bird. The shading of the overlay colour here is little short of miraculous for a glass carving, and would indeed be impressive in a painting. The artist has gone to the lengths of making some of the smallest buds much darker than some of the flowers, to emphasize them and visually echo the smallest details of a tree (the upper branches of which, for instance, appear darker when silhouetted against a light-coloured sky).

    This masterpiece may have suffered some damage, as a result of which a coloured footrim may have been removed. Although the existing footrim seems too small, the profile of the bottle gives no indication of having been altered to provide sufficient material for a footrim, so it may be a slightly reduced footrim that was originally in the ground colour. The surface is rather dulled from long use, although, given its intensely painterly status, it may have started life with a matt finish. Nothing, however, can detract from its breath-taking quality as a glass carving, and with art at this level and of this rarity, a little damage, particularly if it is sensitively restored, is of little consequence.

    The symbolism can be explained as: wo (shuang) magpies (xique) stand for double happiness (shuangxi), while a magpie perched on (shang) the tip (shao) of a prunus (mei) branch expresses the wish for 'happiness up to the tip of the eyebrow (xishang meishao)', while the inscription referring to a branch exuding spring fragrance indicates the prunus, the first tree to flower in the spring. Pairs - whether of insects or other creatures - symbolize married couples, so here the boxes, the sticks for agitating insects to get them to fight, the insects together and the butterflies all stand for marital harmony. The idea of harmony or perfection is also carried by round shapes, such as the boxes, and the perforated cover to keep the insects therein while allowing them air to breath. The symbolism of marital harmony (hehe) is also carried by the two boxes (he also being the sound of the character for 'box'). Insects generally, of course, symbolize fertility by virtue of their legendary capacity for reproduction, and the odd little insect crawling near the clump of grass is but one of its parents' innumerable offspring, symbolizing the continuity of the family line arising from so much harmony.

    1810-1880 松苔 白套棕色玻璃春香秋景圖鼻煙壺

    平唇,凸斂底,突出圈足,足底完全接觸地面;一正面刻喜鵲上梅圖,題曰「弌枝春香,松苔」,另一正面刻鬥蟋蟀圖,題曰「秋景,松苔」,後鈐「圖」、「記」二篆印,側面具獸首啣環耳。

    Moss and Sargent 2011,頁25 和 Treasury 5 已經提出,松苔可能是嶺南收藏家伍延鎏(1848–1919)松苔館主。因為松苔的煙壺和以李韻亭、李維之委托人作的煙壺風格很相似,推測它們也是揚州製的。但本壺的圖比李兄弟的套玻璃煙壺刻的圖案更逼真,鳥、樹幹、梅花等都刻得栩栩如生。反面的蝴蝶翼跟別的細節上鑽空孔的地方也比瑪麗及莊智博鼻煙壺珍藏第二場拍賣會,拍賣品號76,「韻亭自賞」的那件壺上的水果規整得多。獸首啣環耳也比李氏壺更像宮廷式的,故松苔之煙壺來源還待考。
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