By John Dorfman
Offered at Bonhams Hong Kong, November 28,2011
Estimated at HK$4.9 – 9 million
Sold for HK$252.3 million ($3.3 million)
Chinese collectors continue to be avid for wares with a connection to their country’s dynastic rulers, among whom the Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1736–95) was one of the greatest in terms of art patronage. This snuff bottle, with famille-rose enamel ornamentation on translucent white glass was manufactured in the imperial Qianlong workshops and at 8 centimeters high is the largest recorded palace enamel-on-glass wares of its type. It set a world record for any Chinese snuff bottle when it sold at Bonhams Hong Kong this past autumn.
This bottle’s iconography is heavily Western-influenced, with the major panels showing what are clearly European women, scantily clad by Chinese standards. Each of the four panels is enclosed in a trompe l’oeil frame, also in European style. The narrow side panels evince Western stylistic elements as well, even though their subjects are Chinese landscapes.
European missionaries established themselves as artists and artisans in the workshops of 18th-century China, where their influence was especially pronounced in the fields of glassmaking and enameling. Questions of foreign influence were probably moot for the buyer of this delicate object, who evidently found it to be up to snuff.