One of Jim Li's favourites, this bottle belongs to a small group depicting Queen Victoria on a throne, complete with crown and sceptre. They cannot have been painted before her marriage to Albert in 1840, since he is mentioned as her husband in the inscriptions which accompany some examples. Some have the paddle-wheeled junk on the reverse, some an inscription and some a further group of Europeans. The bottles with inscriptions are signed 'Written by Wu Peishan, a native of Jiangxia', and describe how Victoria acceded to the throne in 1838 and chose a husband 'from her own country' who is shown 'standing beside her'. Wu then goes on to outline the manner in which courtiers are presented to the Queen, recounting that at audiences they take off their hats and, bending on one knee, hold the Queen's hand and kiss it. He adds that civil officials wore blue and military officers reddish-brown with gold-coloured epaulets and a 'belt' hanging from one shoulder to distinguish different ranks. The subject is probably taken from an illustration of a specific event, perhaps with many more courtiers involved, although only a representative group is shown which changes in detail from bottle to bottle. The Queen, however, remains constant in her garb and central position with a kneeling courtier kissing her hand.
The bottles with the ship on the reverse depict a paddle-wheeled Chinese junk with a funnel and masts with a varying number of foreign crew members distinguished by their curly, auburn-coloured hair. It is likely that the subject here is drawn from events at Guangzhou in the early 1830s when the Chinese were so impressed with the first European paddle steamer they had seen, that they built such paddles into a junk of their own, but instead of powering it by steam, they used coolies to turn the wheels (see Emily Byrne Curtis, 'The Impact of the West', part 1, 'China in the Nineteenth Century', JICSBS, June 1981, p. 8).
For other similar bottles decorated with Queen Victoria on one side and the paddle-wheeled junk on the other, see the example sold in our London Rooms, 10 December 1982, lot 3; Robert Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, no. 231; Robert Hall, Chinese Snuff Bottles, no. 60; and JICSBS, June 1981, p. 9.