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Lingbi scholars' rocks in early/mid 20th century America

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Lingbi scholars' rocks in early/mid 20th century America Empty LING BI WEN STONE APPRECIATION .

Post  Guest Mon Jul 27, 2009 11:18 pm

Dear Norma:

Lingbi stones were one of the first, if not the first, viewing stones introduced in the United States from China. My guess is that it was over a hundred years ago.
If you look at older auction catalogs by the "big houses" like Sothebys, you will find them in the Chinese antique sections.

There are also some expensive specimens for sale at the larger dealers for Oriental antiques.
A small antique delarship in the Bay Area specializes in lingbi stones.
The prices are several times larger than what we see on the limited vendor areas in stone or bonsai shows.


Peter Aradi


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Post  Chris Cochrane Tue Aug 11, 2009 3:17 pm

Hi Peter...

The IBC forum would all be glad to learn if you have more to share re' stones in early to mid 20th century collections in North America.  I'd be very grateful to learn more and thank you in advance for sharing.  

Interest in scholars rocks has waxed & waned, even in China.  When Chiang Kai-shek fled mainland China in the mid-20th century, stone interest was so low that not a single stone was listed among the 400,000 art objects which he removed.   When Edward H. Schafer published his commentary Tu Wan's Stone Catalogue of Cloudy Forest (University of California publication, 1961), Kemin tells me that scholars rock enthusiasm was not vigorous in China & unremarked in the West.  Schafer’s scholarship was ahead of modern interest in the stones internationally or of wide interest in their homeland.

In separate publications, Kemin Hu & Edith Frankel acknowledge early interest in Chinese scholars rocks in North America to fine artists using them as models-- especially the artists C.C. Wang & Richard Rosenblum.  Mr. Wang (1907-2003) began interest in scholars rocks during his early 20s (~1930) in China.  He did not move to the United States until 1949 (fleeing the social order of the emergent PRC).  In collecting scholars’ rocks internationally, Mr. Wang did not prefer a particular type (e.g., Lingbi) though he expressed interest in abstract over representational form.

Richard Rosenblum (1940-2000) saw his first Chinese scholar’s rock in the early 1970s.  Ten years later, Western museums scoffed at efforts to mount a Chinese scholars’ rock show.  When Rosenblum finally had his preview Worlds Within Worlds show at the Asia Society (NY) in 1996, Mowry thought the exhibit might even be shown in China.  Rosenblum, however, noted that the Chinese would not appreciate a Westerner re-introducing their art.  Among others, Robery Mowry (editor of the Worlds Within Worlds catalog) has speculated that Rosenblum’s interest in scholars rocks rejuvenated interest in both China and the West, perhaps even advancing it by decades.  Before the Rosenblum exhibition, scholars rocks were not widely embraced in the art world.  Though they have been included in international auctions of Chinese works of art, dedicated sales are still few.  While the stone appreciation community might consider the Rosenblum exhibit a blockbuster museum show, the modest art museum in my hometown (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) which is listed as a venue in the exhibit catalog canceled its presentation of WWW for another exhibit <…SOB (as in crying!)…>.

Between Schafer’s Tu Wan Catalogue commentary & Rosenblum’s Worlds Within Worlds exhibition(s), John Hay’s catalog Kernels of Energy, Bones of Earth: The Rock in Chinese Art accompanied an exhibit at the China House Gallery, NYC, in 1985-86. Illustrations indicate the China Institute was able to find paintings & representational carved scenes (e.g., nephrite, lapis & other stone carvings) & functional scholars desk objects (e.g., brushrest) for loan from museums, but it borrowed from private collections (Wang, Ellsworth, Stein et al.) for abstract scholars rocks.  Paintings of such stones were ubiquitous, however, and compose the bulk of catalog items  for this “rock in Chinese art” exhibition.

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (construction 1985) of Vancouver (BC, Canada) was the first full-sized example built outside China.  Prior to its construction, the last was built in China over 100 years previously.  Its Taihu stone garden constructions are extraordinary, but the gift from a garden association in Suchou did not extend to furnishing the studio with any desktop stones.

The U.S. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is continually reassessing its collections & historical association; even brief histories can be an important distinction.  Clearer understanding of Chinese scholar rock & shangshi introduction into North America would be useful.

Kemin once purchased a Chinese scholar's rock from a private collection in Chicago which had been in an American art collection since 1970.  Is it distinctive in age among Chinese scholar stones of early North American provenance?  Naturally contoured Chinese stones found in private or public Western collections prior to 1970 must be remarkable in their exclusivity.  

I suspect we are more interested in the collecting age in China for traditional Chinese stones, but I'd love to learn more of the early transition to international interest.  The perspective from China in selling stones & from the West in purchasing stones is likely far different.  What of Chinese scholars rocks in Japan & Korea... and the flow of significant stones and capital through history including today?

Last edited by Chris Cochrane on Wed Oct 14, 2015 10:37 pm; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : split from thread on Lingbi Wen stones & typo edit)
Chris Cochrane
Chris Cochrane

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Post  Guest Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:47 pm

Hi Chris:

Congratulations on your concise review of Chinese stones in the United States based on recent, past 1960, English language publications. It is a tour de force and deserve to be reprinted for a larger readership. It is unfortunate that we have no viewing stone related publications in this country.

Now returning to the original topic we must consider first that language is an ever changing and dynamic part of our culture. In Japan Chinese viewing and scholar stones were referred to as kazari mono (display thing) or kazari shi (display stone.) Occasionally they even used the term kara mono (Chinese thing, but later usage it was applied to all foreign items.) The same way in English the terms viewing stones and scholar stones are fairly recent; both came into use in our life time. Well, you and I are in the same age group, right?
In the classification of Chinese antiques stones were listed variously as hard stones (most common), carved stones, semi-precious stones or strange stones. In the cataloges I have seen they were always paired with jade or precious stones, not as a stand alone category. So typically in a catalog they would be listed as Chinese antique jade and hard stones.
As mentioned in my previous posting, I found references in Sotheby's Auction Catalogs, 1928 and 1938 for example; in the cataloges of the Anderson Galleries for the years 1921, 1924, 1930, among others, and several references in the American Art Association to the Anderson Galleries, 1930 for example.
An interesting manuscript is Yun-Lin's Treatise on Rocks (Sung Dynasty 960-1176); a selected portion translated into English by Yu Sen in 1934. Also a presentation on the Chinese methods of cutting hard stones by Walter Hildburgh, published in London in 1907. I have not seen these reefrences before.

The problem with these rare archival material is that the extant copies are one or less than a handful, and Interlibrary Loan is not an option. Only this morning one of my request for a less than 40 years old book written by Stephen Addiss came back with the note that the only copy available for loan would be US$30 just for shipping. A bit high for a retired person on a fixed income.

Peter Aradi


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