A variety of glass vessels was created during the Qianlong period simulating the striking orange-red coloured arsenic sulphide mineral 'realgar'. The naturalistic pattern achieved on realgar glass makes vessels of this type attractive and unique. Hugh Moss and Gerard Tsang in Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Hong Kong, 1986, p. 126, note that the swirling patterns visible at the surface of a mallet realgar glass vase "are full of possibilities for the imaginative mind. It may read as a landscape, drifting incense smoke or a variety of strange living creatures, but it also represents the endlessly changing patterns of energy from which all phenomena emanate in the Chinese view, particularly expressed by Daoism. To the Daoist scholar it would be a work of art of subtle complexity and endless fascination, to be appreciated like incense smoke as meditative aid."
An interesting aspect of realgar glass is that it may possibly be one of the earliest types of glass made in the Imperial Palace Workshop known as the Glassworks. Richard John Lynn in ‘Technical aspects and connoisseurship of snuff bottles: Late traditional Chinese sources’, Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, Summer, 1995, p. 8, mentions Zhou Jixu, a late Qing connoisseur, who described realgar glass as consisting of "blotches of yellow arbitrarily pulled together". For a discussion of the possible imperial origins and dating of realgar glass see Hugh Moss, Victor Graham and Ka Bo Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles. The Mary and George Bloch Collection, vol. 5, Hong Kong, 2000, pp. 138-146, where it is suggested that it was the product of the Court from the early 18th century onwards and possibly a Courtly prerogative or secret for some decades.
A similar imitation realgar glass incense burner, but unmarked and of opaque orange, yellow-ochre and chrysochlorous greenish-gold tones, originally sold in our London rooms, 8th June 1970, lot 38 from the collections of Professor Peter H. Plesch and Mrs T. Plesch and the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat, was later sold again in these rooms, 8th October 2010, lot 2219.
Realgar glass vessels of other forms can be found in a number of museums and private collections; for example see a mallet vase, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, included in Luster of Autumn Water. Glass of the Qing Imperial Workshop, Beijing, 2004, pl. 25; two pieces from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, a mallet vase and a dish, both sold in these rooms, 8th October 2009, lots 1801 and 1819 respectively; and a hexafoil vase, from the Sloane collection published in Soame Jenyns, Chinese Art. The Minor Arts II, London, 1965, pl. 81, together with a realgar glass snuff bottle, pl. 201f. The Sloane collection also contains two realgar glass cups and a bowl.
For examples of glass incense burners of similar form to the present piece, see one made in opaque turquoise glass, also from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection, sold in these rooms, 8th October 2010, lot 2193; another from the collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth illustrated in Claudia Brown and Donald Rabiner, Clear as Crystal, Red as Flame, New York, 1990, pl. 34; a pink glass incense burner decorated with gilded floral design and part of a three-piece set published in Luster of Autumn Water, op. cit., pl. 118, together with another three-piece set that contains a blue glass incense burner, pl. 117; and a fourth yellow glass incense burner included in the exhibition Elegance and Radiance: Grandeur in Qing Glass, The Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2000, pl. 54.
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