Mary and George Bloch

Mary and George Bloch began to focus their collecting activities on Chinese snuff bottles in the early-1980s and have since formed one of the finest private collections ever known.

George Bloch (born in Vienna, 12th October 1920, died in Hong Kong, 27th April 2009), the son of a prominent industrial family, was educated in England and moved to Shanghai in 1938. He stayed in Asia and eventually set up a successful company manufacturing and distributing toys, timepieces, housewares, and computer components. In 1969, George married Mary and they began to actively collect art together. With Mary, George’s interests grew far beyond the stamp collection he had amassed largely on his own, to include Japanese ivory and lacquer, Chinese ceramics and other works of art, and modern Western painting and sculpture. Their collection of twentieth-century Western art was one of the few formed in the Far East at the time and by far the most important in Hong Kong. From these various interests sprang a range of activities which took them to museums and auctions around the world, and saw Mary appointed to the Peggy Guggenheim Advisory Board in Venice, on which she has served ever since.

They turned to collecting snuff bottles in the early 1980s when considering the prospect of the return of Hong Kong to the PRC and felt it wise to focus on collecting something less bulky and more easily transported than modern paintings and sculpture. Throughout the years, they were advised by Robert Kleiner, Robert Hall and Hugh Moss. The collection has been published extensively and exhibited widely, starting with a show at the galleries of Sydney L. Moss Ltd. (accompanied by the publication by Robert Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, Hong Kong, 1987). The next major exhibition with a publication was at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 1994 (Chinese Snuff Bottles. A Miniature Art from the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 1994), quickly followed by one at the British Museum (Robert Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles in the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, London, 1995). In 1995 there was also an exhibition at The National Museum of Singapore and two years later at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (1997). The Bloch’s exceptional group of inside-painted snuff bottles were all exhibited in London in 1999 in conjunction with a convention of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, and a smaller selection was included in the exhibition Passion of Collecting: The Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, 25th Anniversary Exhibition, University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1999. The most recent exhibitions were both held in 2000, when several bottles accompanied an exhibition held first in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and published in The Imperial Packing Art of the Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2000, and then in the Musée de la Miniature, Montelimar.

The collection also prompted an unprecedented published record of the collection, created by Hugh Moss, the late Victor Graham, and Ka Bo Tsang, in the monumental, seven-volume series A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles: The Mary and George Bloch Collection, Hong Kong, vol. 1, Jade (1996); vol. 2, Quartz (1998); vol. 3, Stones Other than Jade and Quartz (1998); vol. 4, Inside Painted (2000); vol. 5, Glass (2000); vol. 6, Arts of the Fire (2008); vol. 7, Organic, metal, mixed media (2009). These seven volumes constitute an outstanding catalogue raisonné of 1,720 items in the collection.

Without her husband, Mary feels that the impulse to collect has come to an end and that it is time to allow others to enjoy the bottles the way she and George did. The collection will be dispersed through auctions in accordance with the long-term plans they had agreed long before George became ill. It is Sotheby’s privilege to be assisting with the sale of this legendary collection.

Snuff Bottles from the Mary & George Bloch Collection: Part VII