An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)

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Lot 66
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle
Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)

Sold for HK$ 84,000 (US$ 10,830) inc. premium
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle
Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
7.23cm high (including original stopper).

Footnotes

  • Treasury 7, no. 1493


    椰殼刻銘鼻煙壺
    若褱,1875年(或為1815年)


    Ruohuai's Antiquity

    Coconut-shell; with a flat lip and concave, non-functional foot; made up of two convex segments for the main body and four more for the neck (two horizontal, disc-shaped sections for the lip and main neck, and two smaller sections to join it to the body on each main side), held together with coconut-shell pins around the edges; carved on one main side with a branch of flowering prunus, inscribed above with 'Designed by Sun Yunshou for fourth younger brother Ruohuai', and on the other with an engraved bronze-script text encircling two further inscriptions in regular script, the title 'Zhongsi li', and '[Engraved] copying antiquity by Ruohuai in the spring of the yihai year'
    Ruohuai, spring probably 1875 (possibly 1815)
    Height: 7.23 cm. (including original stopper)
    Mouth/lip: 0.58/2.10 cm
    Stopper: coconut-shell, carved to imitate the decorative end of a roof-tile inscribed in seal script Changsheng weiyang (Longevity without limit); original
    Condition: slight separation up the narrow sides where the two main halves are joined, with some accumulated dirt therein; slight, irregular cracking around the joint line where the separate segments of the neck meet the two segments of the main body; 1.7 cm crack running from lower left base area of the side with calligraphy; usual wear and tear of soft, organic materials handled over a long period of time. General relative condition: Good; none of the minor damage is obtrusive. Stopper: perfect

    Provenance:
    Albert Pyke
    Sydney L. Moss Ltd.
    Elizabeth and Ladislas Kardos
    Reif Collection
    Christie's, New York, 18 October 1993, lot 130

    Published;
    Kleiner 1995, no. 351
    Treasury 7, no. 1493


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

    Commentary:
    The construction here is rare for a coconut-shell snuff bottle. It has the standard two segments to form the main bottle, although of an unusual, elongated oval form, but the neck is constructed of two discs set horizontally one upon the other, the lower one curving in to meet the body of the bottle. Two further segments then bridge the gap beneath the lower disc and the body. This results in a strange narrow-side profile where the neck appears to be far wider than the body of the bottle (in fact it is only a little over a millimetre wider). So large a lip was not necessary for any obvious functional reason related to snuff taking, so can only have been driven by formal or decorative ends. If the latter, it might have been to emphasize the design on the original stopper, but it seems more likely that it was prompted by a formal consideration. The bottle does not stand on its tiny, elongated concave foot, so whenever it was put down, it had to be lain on one main side or the other. The continuous convex curve of each main side meant that it would settle only on one point and then be distinctly unstable, rocking at the slightest movement. This would make the design difficult to enjoy unless one picked it up in the hand. The wide neck provides a second point of contact which serves to keep the design level and less inclined to rock.

    The relationship between participants here is typical of the literati where artists frequently got together to combine their creative talents, but in this case is very clearly recorded, even if we have been unable to identify either of the two individuals involved. Sun Yunshou, obviously an artist, prepared a design, probably on paper with brush and ink, for Ruohuai to engrave onto the coconut-shell bottle. The bottle itself may have been made up for Ruohuai as a blank by a craft-workshop, although the construction of coconut-shell bottles would certainly not be beyond the capacity of a scholar-carver, nor a distasteful, messy, industrial task such as carving jade, or casting bronze, for instance. One reason why so many of this group of bottles are so simply made from two segments joined by pins and glue may have been precisely because the scholar class made the bottles themselves. As a painter and one in a position to condescend, if mildly and in the traditional manner, to Ruohuai with the honorific title 'fourth younger brother,' we may assume that Sun Yunshou was a scholar-artist. If Ruohuai was a literatus, then Sun must have been, and there can be little doubt about Ruohuai's status from his esoteric choice of an ancient bronze inscription, his ability to engrave it with such confidence and grace, and his fluent calligraphy in running script - and, of course, by his command of the iron-brush.

    Even the original stopper here represents a literate choice. Some of the great palaces of ancient times were roofed with clay tiles terminating in a fringe of end-tiles with auspicious inscriptions on them. The excavation of many of these tile-ends in the Qing dynasty led to the practice of using them as inkstones. Every time ink was ground, a tiny part of the clay surface was mixed into the ink, bringing to it an ancient resonance which inspired artists.

    The cyclical date here is somewhat ambiguous. Given the range of dates on these coconut-shell bottles either 1815 or 1875 would be possible, although there seems to have been a gathering fashion for them as the century progressed and until some other evidence comes to light, it is perhaps safer to assume that the later date is the more likely. The inscription (from a Western Zhou vessel) had been published at least as early as the Ming dynasty and so would have been available any time to a Qing scholar-artist.

    With is rare form, extraordinary condition, including the survival of the original stopper, intriguing combination of subjects and participants, it ranks as one of the most exciting of all literati coconut-shell snuff bottles, in themselves an exciting genre. Recently much greater interest in snuff bottles made by the literati and treated by them as high art has brought a range of bottles out of relative obscurity to catapult them into the ranks of the most sought-after bottles in our collections. In the first phase of snuff bottle evolution the court governed both taste and production, and palace snuff bottles of various sorts are among the most sought after. During the second phase, when snuffing spread throughout the empire, the influence shifted to local patrons and the literati became one of the main influences on the art form. Among a whole range of later-Qing, scholarly bottles, the most exciting are those directly decorated by the creative minority, their chosen subject reflecting their lofty interests. Such bottles are no different from their paintings and calligraphy other than in their chosen medium, and are among our most important snuff bottles, as we are coming to realize. Among these, the group of engraved coconut-shell snuff bottles decorated by the literati, of which we currently have a record of perhaps fifty in all, rank very highly indeed.


    若褱摹古

    椰殼;平唇、沒有站立功能的凹底,腹由兩片凸形椰殼塊作成,唇與頸上部由兩片環形椰殼塊作成,頸與肩再由兩片椰殼塊接上,皆以細椰殼釘沿邊接合;一面刻梅花一枝,其上刻"孫筠綬為若褱四弟寫", 另一面刻回環狀的金文銘記: "中斯大它鑄其寶鬲其萬年子子孫孫永寶用",其中刻楷體"仲斯鬲",又刻 "乙亥春若褱摹古"

    若褱,1875年初春(或為1815年)
    帶原蓋高:7.23厘米
    口經/唇經:0.58/2.10 厘米
    蓋:椰殼,雕漢代 "萬生未央" 瓦當; 原配
    狀態敘述:兩面間有縫隙,其中有些積塵;頸與肩接處有不筆直的微小裂縫,回環狀銘文"其"、"萬"字間有 1.7厘米的裂縫;呈有機材質因長久觸摸而常見的損耗,一般相對的狀況:良好;不重要的損害並不引人注目;蓋的狀態:完善

    來源:
    Albert Pyke
    Sydney L. Moss, Ltd
    Elizabeth and Ladislas Kardos
    Reif 珍藏
    佳士得,紐約,1993年10 月18日,拍賣品號130
    文獻﹕
    Kleiner 1995, 編號351
    Treasury 7, 編號1493
    展覽﹕
    大英博物館, 倫敦, 1995年6月~10 月
    Israel Museum, 耶路撒冷, 1997年7~月11月

    說明:
    就椰殼鼻煙壺來說,本壺的結構頗稀罕。腹由兩片凸形椰殼塊作成是常見的,但唇與頸上部由兩片環形椰殼塊作成,下面的一片收縮以符合壺腹的形式,頸與肩再由兩片椰殼塊接上。從側面看,本壺的輪廓很特殊,唇那麼寬,好像不適合腹部。或許是因為美術學的關係,但看壺沒有站得住的足,一定要臥著放,只靠凸形的椰殼面,它會輕易地搖動。唇寬一點就提供了第二個接觸點,臥壺就會稍微穩定一點。不拿起來還能玩賞壺面的圖案。

    孫筠綬、若褱是誰,我們還不知道,但我們可以推測,是孫筠綬在紙上畫了圖案,若褱則把它刻在壺上的。椰殼煙壺可能是別人給若褱作的毛坯,但用細小椰殼釘和膠劑作煙壺是比較簡易的製程,是文人學士力所能及的。很多椰殼鼻煙壺是這樣作的,可能就是因為大多數是文人學士他們自己製成的。

    乙亥年為西曆何年,難以確定。《仲斯鬲》在明代出版的《貞隱園法帖》一書早已發表過,清代任何時期的學士都能抄刻。不過,因為棷殼煙壺在十九世紀過程中越來越受時尚,我們暫定1875年比1815年的可能性大。

    本壺具有特殊的形式和文化內容,狀態很好,連原件的蓋都保存,實在是卓越的椰殼煙壺中最令人振奮的煙壺之一。鼻煙壺原來是朝廷開風氣之先,因而收藏家爭相競藏宮廷作品,後來是全國的文人學士的風範得勢, 而我們逐漸地感覺到,晚清文人修飾的煙壺如同他們的畫兒和書法,都含有可貴的文化內容和美術意義。我們記錄載有的五十來的文人刻飾椰殼煙壺,的確是這些文物中價值比較高的一部分。
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
An inscribed coconut-shell snuff bottle Ruohuai, dated 1875 (possibly 1815)
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