Yixing in Jiangsu province gives its name to this distinctive stoneware. In production for nearly a thousand years in the same place, Yixing ware only came into artistic prominence in the later Ming dynasty, when it was adopted by the scholar class as a suitable material for teapots and thence for other items in the scholar's studio. Slip-decorated wares constitute a considerable portion of the known snuff-bottle output in this material. Slip is a liquid clay which can be applied like a thick paint, or can be used for gluing segments together.
The scene on this bottle is almost identical to one on another Yixing bottle sold at Sotheby's, London, 5 December 1983, lot 241, from the collection of the late Honor Smith, and the figures are depicted in a very similar fashion. The decoration on the bottle is by the same master slip-decorator who produced the spectacular and rare bottle also in the J & J Collection decorated with brown slip on a beige ground, which was made for the Court (see Moss, Graham, Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle. The J & J Collection, Vol. 1, no. 255; later sold in these rooms, 30 March 2005, lot 78). The J & J Collection also includes two other bottles by the same hand, illustrated Moss, Graham, Tsang, ibid., nos. 252 and 253 (the latter was sold in these rooms, 29 March 2006, lot 22). For further examples of this artist's work, see R. Kleiner, Treasures from the Sanctum of Enlightened Respect, p. 198, no. 170, for a bottle in the Denis Low Collection; B. Stevens, The Collector's Book of Snuff Bottles, no. 324; R. Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles in the Collection of Mary and George Bloch, p. 367, no. 240; and An Imperial Qing Tradition, Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Collections of Humphrey K. F. Hui, p. 49, no. 45.
It is unusual that one main panel has been left undecorated. It may have been intended to be incised afterwards with an inscription, as was common during the mid- and late-nineteenth century, but it is perhaps more likely that the plain side was intended to serve as an integral snuff dish.