A&O READING on SCHOLAR STONES

A&O READING

We have been discussing ART and ARTIFACT, which has become a hot-spot for our understanding of the relationship between PROCESS and PRODUCT in ART, and what, if anything, we should make of having PRODUCTS with NO KNOWLEDGE of the processes–including states of mind–that may have led to them.    Can a decontextualized object or phenomenon be regarded as a work of art?   Well, if your definition of ART includes a “communicative transaction” between artist and viewer,  the answer would be definite “maybe!”

Is a “found object” such as a scholar stone much different than a pebble that resembles the female form found by a paleolithic  individual?  Perhaps they both speak to a capacity for symbolic representation of thought–often regarded as a landmark in the evolution of cognitive competencies.

 

Robert Mowry on Scholar Stones for a Christie’s Auction

TEXT ONLY

please go to  Collecting-Guide-Scholars-Rocks for pictures of stones that were up for auction at Christies in 2015

(FYI, Hong Kong Dollars are about 0.13 of US Dollars, so many of these stones sold in the hundreds of thousands of $dollars)

The author of the guide was the curator at Harvard that introduced me to these objects as they were being set up for exhibit at the Sackler Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

A small Japanese Furuyaishi rock mountain accompanied with a mounted album of commentaries by various connoisseurs. Japan, late Edo period. Sold for HK$300,000 ($38,891) in Beyond White Clouds – Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

 


The fantastically-shaped stones that have inspired China’s poets and painters, as seen in December 2015 at “Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection”

What are scholars’ rocks?

Leading expert Robert D. Mowry, who is Harvard Art Museum’s Curator Emeritus and a senior consultant to Christie’s, describes them as ‘favoured stones that the Chinese literati displayed in the rarefied atmosphere of their studios’. The Chinese scholar drew inspiration from the natural world; he did not go out into nature to paint or compose poetry, explains Christie’s specialist Pola Antebi. Rather, he worked within the seclusion of his studio and used these ‘representations of mountains’ as inspiration for his work.  

 

 

http://www.christies.com/media-library/images/features/articles/2015/11/10/scholars-rocks/3004-A-Ying-soaring-phoenix-scholar-s-rock.jpg

http://www.christies.com/media-library/images/features/articles/2015/11/10/scholars-rocks/3007-A-rare-root-wood-and-stone-lotus-form-sculpture.jpg

A Ying ‘soaring phoenix’ scholar’s rock. Qing dynasty. This piece was offered in Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

A rare root-wood and stone lotus-form sculpture. Qing dynasty. This piece was offered in Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong




What do the various forms represent?

‘Like a landscape painting, the rock represented a microcosm of the universe on which the scholar could meditate within the confines of his studio or garden,’ says Robert D. Mowr., ‘Although most scholar’s rocks suggest mountain landscapes, these abstract forms may recall a variety of images to the viewer, such as dragons, phoenixesblossoming plants and even human figures.’

A few of the mountainscapes may recall specific peaks but most represent imaginary mountains such as the isles of the immortals believed to rise in the eastern sea. However, more than anything it was the abstract qualities that appealed to the Chinese literati, an idea that resonates with the modern collector who will see parallels with the avant-garde forms of Brancusi, Moore and Giacometti. 

 

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An inscribed Lingbi scholar’s rock. This piece was offered in Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong



Are they natural or man-made?

They were found in nature and on occasion enhanced by carving and piercing the stones, or making inscriptions.   

Where were they found?

The rocks were often brought to the scholars from remote places, the finest coming from riverbeds or mountains. Some of the most prized examples came from Lingbi, in the northern Anhui provenance of China. ‘Because of their density, Lingbi stones are naturally resonant,’ Mowry explains. ‘The best Lingbi stones are deep black in colour; often only lightly textured, their surfaces appear moist and glossy.’

More common are the rocks originating from Yingde, in the Guangdong province. ‘Ying rocks are traditionally prized for their intricately textured surfaces which are often characterised as “dimpled” or “bubbled”,’ says Mowry. ‘At Yingde, rocks were harvested from caves; tradition asserts that the best pieces came from caves filled with water, which imparted dark, glossy surfaces.’

 

http://www.christies.com/media-library/images/features/articles/2015/11/10/scholars-rocks/3019-A-Qilian-stream-and-grottoes-stone.jpg



A Qilian ‘stream and grottoes’ stone. Qing dynasty. Sold for $1,120,000 in Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong



When were they first collected, and by whom?

From as early as the Neolithic period — nearly 7,000 years ago — prized stones and jade have been found buried in tombs. However it was not until the late Tang dynasty (618-907) that scholar’s rocks were collected in earnest.

In the Song dynasty (960-1279) we begin to see their influence on Chinese literature. ‘Mi Fu (1051-1107) and others composed essays on rocks,’ explains Christie’s specialist Pola Antebi, ‘and Du Wan (12th century) compiled the first comprehensive catalogue of stones, Yunlin shipu, attesting to the growing appreciation of fine stones.’

This fascination lasted for centuries and the breadth of the collection in this sale testifies to the rocks’ continuing appeal. ‘Collectors from all over the world find them appealing once they have been introduced to the category,’ confirms Antebi. ‘One prominent collector who helped introduce the category in the United States was the late Robert Rosenblum, an artist based in Boston.’

 

http://www.christies.com/media-library/images/features/articles/2015/11/10/scholars-rocks/3010-A-calico-Lingbi-scholar-rock.jpg

http://www.christies.com/media-library/images/features/articles/2015/11/10/scholars-rocks/3005-An-inscribed-and-dated-Lingbi-cloud-form-scholar-s-rock.jpg

A ‘calico’ Lingbi scholar’s rock. Qing dynasty (1644-1911). This piece was offered in Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collectionon 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

An inscribed and dated Lingbi cloud-form scholar’s rock. Sold for HK$2,200,000 ($285,199) in Beyond White Clouds — Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong




What are the criteria for a scholar’s rock?

In his mid-19th century book Tanshi — or Chats on Rocks — Liang Jiutu stated that ‘in collecting, it is the choice of rocks that comes first. If the rock does not seem like a painting by the powers of nature, then you shouldn’t choose it.’

Many factors contribute to the perfect scholar’s rock — or ‘fantastic rocks’ as they were once known — ranging from its geographic origin to the colour and texture of the stone. ‘Rocks of sombre colour are typically appreciated for their sensuous shapes, while rocks of bright colour are generally valued for their massed forms, which best showcase their colours,’ says Antebi.

A number of terms were created to describe the desired qualities in a scholar’s rock, from shou (meaning thin) to tou (conveying ‘openess’). Hollows in the rock, meanwhile, were prized for their dramatic contrast to the solidity of the stone — and light. Other terms denote the rock’s age: gu means ancient but also elegant, while jue is the ultimate accolade, translating as ‘perfect’.

 

http://www.christies.com/media-library/images/features/articles/2015/11/10/scholars-rocks/3016-A-small-Japanese-Furuyaishi-rock-mountain-accompanied-with-a-mounted-album-of-commentaries-by-various-connoisseurs.jpg



A small Japanese Furuyaishi rock mountain accompanied with a mounted album of commentaries by various connoisseurs. Japan, late Edo period. Sold for HK$300,000 ($38,891) in Beyond White Clouds – Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection on 2 December 2015 at Christie’s in Hong Kong



What do these pieces tell us about the cultural exchange between China and Japan?

‘This particular collection was primarily sourced in Japan,’ says Pola Antebi. ‘Many of these treasured pieces were acquired in China by Japanese dealers and transported back to Japan in the 19th century.

Robert D. Mowry elaborates on the differences between Chinese and Japanese taste when it came to the shapes of the rocks: ‘In creating paintings and in collecting rocks, the Japanese followed Chinese models in certain periods, while embracing native Japanese styles in others.’

There is a marked tendency for hollows and textured surfaces in Chinese rocks, while the Japanese prefer stones with a smoother surface, and tend to favour forms that suggest well-known peaks such as Mount Fuji.

 


For more features, interviews and videos, visit Christie’s Daily

 See the “Cloud Formed Scholars Rock” at Christie’s website (” AN INSCRIBED AND DATED LINGBI CLOUD-FORM SCHOLAR’S ROCK SIGNED JIN NONG (1687-1763); SIGNED GAO FENGHAN (1683-1749), DATED CYCLICAL YIMAO YEAR, CORRESPONDING TO 1735 AND OF THE PERIOD.  The dark-grey Lingbi stone is of elongated form rising and twisting to create an internal tension, with angled protuberances and crevices, incised on one side with a four-line inscription excerpted from Eulogy of the Eighteen Luohan by the Song dynasty poet Su Shi, signed Jin Nong; another side with a long inscription which can be translated as ‘This stone is awkward-shaped but has a clear sound when struck, therefore one can only comprehend it with one’s heart/ mind. If Mi Fu saw it he would bow down before it, if it were Su Shi he would fold his arms in admiration.’ Signed Fenghan with a cyclical yimao date, followed by a seal reading Gao.   22 3/8 in. (57 cm.) high, wood stand.   (sold at auction for 2.2 million HKD)

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https://www.christies.com/LotFinderImages/D59520/d5952026x.jpgAN INSCRIBED AND DATED LINGBI CLOUD-FORM SCH...December 2 2015, Hong Kong   Lot 3005

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https://www.christies.com/LotFinderImages/D59520/d5952037x.jpgA SMALL JAPANESE FURUYAISHI ROCK MOUNTAIN...December 2 2015, Hong Kong   Lot 3016