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Bonhams Spring Auctions Offer Snuff Bottles, Soapstone Figures & Chinese Works of Art
Chinese Jades from the Collection of John and Berthe Ford (lots 389-428). Photo: Bonhams.

HONG KONG.- Following on from the extraordinary results of Part I and Part II, in which every snuff bottle from the celebrated Mary and George Bloch Collection of Chinese Snuff Bottles has sold, with world records broken in eleven different categories, Part III is eagerly awaited.

Several great collections of snuff bottles were formed in the early 20th century in Asia, Europe and the USA. However, no collection formed in the modern era can rival that formed by the late George Bloch (1920-2009). It consists of 1720 bottles, purchased at auction and from leading international snuff bottle dealers from 1983 onwards. Extensively published and exhibited at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and British Museum, it is widely regarded as the highest quality collection of snuff bottles in private hands. The contents of this world famous collection span three centuries of top-level Chinese craftsmanship.

The sale of Part III of the Collection includes 142 snuff bottles, with an overall estimate of HK$25-50million.

Highlights include:

Lot 141: An extremely rare gold-ground ‘famille-rose’ enamelled copper ‘European-subject’ snuff bottle. Qianlong mark and of the period, palace workshops, Beijing, 1770–1779, 5.89cm high. Estimate: HK$3,500,000 - 7,000,000

This outstanding snuff bottle pays testament to the highest quality workmanship produced by Imperial artisans in the Forbidden City during the late Qianlong period. The panels themselves are rare, probably emanating from England, possibly rare tribute offered by Western diplomats, traders or missionaries in the late 18th century. The Emperor was clearly impressed by their quality, and chose to have them set in gold, with the highest quality enamel filling and metal chasing.

Lot 24: A carved ivory ‘Legend of the White Snake’ snuff bottle Imperial Master, Japan, 1854–1910, 6.91cm high. Estimate: HK$300,000 - 600,000

Exquisitely carved in ivory, this depicts a scene from the Legend of the White Snake. This snuff bottle is one of a rare group of similar high quality ivory snuff bottles incised with Qianlong Imperial marks on the base. Throughout the 20th century, these were thought to be Qianlong, but in 2006, the scholar Hugh Moss revealed that the group were actually high quality copies made in the late 19th century by master craftsmen in Japan. However, even as old fakes, this group is still highly collectible due to the high level of quality, so the bottle is still expected to make up to HK$600,000.

Lot 29: A ‘famille-rose’ enamelled porcelain moonflask ‘landscape’ snuff bottle attributed to Tang Ying, Imperial kilns, Jingdezhen. Qianlong seal mark and of the period, 1736–1756, 5.08cm high. HK$2,000,000 - 4,000,000

This epitomises the highest quality output of the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen. Manufactured under the personal supervision of Tang Ying, the director of the Imperial kilns, the snuff bottle is in pristine condition, suggesting that it was never used but kept as a treasured item in the Imperial collection. The exquisite landscape shows a scene of autumn on one side, and winter on the other.

The Q Collection: Exquisite Soapstones
The Q Collection is arguably the greatest collection of soapstone figures ever to be offered at auction. The 78 figures represent the personal journey of the collector, who showed remarkable vision in collecting these figures, starting in the late 1970s. They were purchased from top art dealers in USA, Europe and Japan, and also from street markets. One of the rarest examples was purchased for a token sum in Cat Street in the late 1970s.

Soapstone, or shoushan stone, is produced in South East China near to Fuzhou city. Prized throughout Chinese history, attractive to the eye and highly tangible, it was somewhat overlooked by collectors of Chinese art in the 20th century, who focused on porcelain and jade. Now however, there will be great interest from new Chinese collectors looking for pieces of quality and provenance.

Highlights include:

An extremely fine and rare large soapstone figure of a sage, 17th/18th century 19.5cm high Provenance: Douglas Wright Ltd, London, 1980 Estimate: HK$2,000,000-4,000,000

An exquisite and extremely rare soapstone figure of Budai Buddha, signed Zhou Bin 17th Century 9.5cm wide Provenance: Oriental Art Gallery, London, 1983 Estimate: HK$2,000,000-4,000,000

An outstanding and extremely rare soapstone figure of Kanakabharadvja, signed Weirufen zhu, 17th-18th Century, Provenance: Mary and George Bloch, Hong Kong, Hugh Moss, Estimate: HK$1,500,000-2,500,000

Julian King, Head of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, comments: “This is an unparalleled opportunity for collectors to acquire soapstone figures of the highest quality with impeccable provenance”.

Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art
The Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art auction features a cornucopia of works of art from the sublime to niche collectibles, reflecting the rich diversity of China’s Imperial and artistic output.

The sale includes several private collections of fine quality Chinese antiques, including:

Chinese Jades from the Collection of John and Berthe Ford (lots 389-428)

The collection of John and Berthe Ford is famous for its Himalayan art, one of the most important private collections in the world. The collection has been widely exhibited, including at “Desire and Devotion: Art from India, Nepal and Tibet”, which was shown between 2001 and 2004 at the Walters Art Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Albuquerque Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, and Hong Kong Museum of Art. In an extraordinary act of philanthropy, the Fords have recently donated their entire collection to the Walters Art Museum, their home museum in Baltimore.

The name Ford is famous in Himalayan art, but only close friends and relatives would have been aware of the collection of Chinese decorative art begun by his godfather Edward O'Dell in the 1930s, and continued right up to the present day by his protégée. Many of the larger vessels at the Bonhams auction were purchased by O'Dell at the great liquidation sale of Yamanaka & Co., held at Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, from 24-27 May 1944. The others were acquired by O'Dell and Ford from galleries they visited on their extensive international travels.

Highlights of this collection include:

Lot 427: An outstanding white jade 'hu' vase from the Qianlong period. Estimate: HK$800,000-1,200,000

Lot 389: An 18th century large white jade finger-citron from the mid Qing dynasty period. Estimate: HK$80,000-120,000

Collection of Bronze Weapons

This is an extraordinary comprehensive collection of 207 ancient Chinese bronze weapons, formed by a Western connoisseur, resident in Hong Kong, over a 20-year period. The highlights of the collection were included in the groundbreaking exhibition ‘Ancient Chinese Weapons’ at the Museum of Coastal Defense, Hong Kong. The collection will be sold without reserve.

Julian King, Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, comments: "This is a unique auction in Hong Kong as auctions normally focus on antiques from the Ming and QIng dynasties. The owner has taken the decision to offer the weapons without reserve, which provides an unparalleled opportunity for collectors to purchase ancient bronze weapons with outstanding provenance. Some of the Warring States swords would be sold for up to US$50,000 on the international market, making this an auction not to be missed for collectors interested in Chinese ancient bronzes".

Other auctions highlights include:

A rare and brilliantly enamelled ruby-ground 'yangcai' 'floral' bowl Yongzheng yuzhi four-character mark and of the period. Estimate HK$2,000,000-4,000,000

An extraordinary pair of large exquisitely carved ivory vases from the late Qing dynasty. Estimate HK$1,800,000 - 2,500,000

A rare bronze cannon presented to the Governor-General of Zhili province in 1843, a rare early relic of China’s first modernisation. Estimate: HK$120,000-180,000

Julian King adds further: “The Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale on 25 May contains a rich diversity of material, ranging from ancient bronze swords from the Shang dynasty (12th century BC) to 19th century porcelain. Amongst the 250 lots, there truly is something that that will appeal to a large group of collectors”.

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