Chinese Scholar’s Rocks: Lessons from a Major Auction
A recent auction of fine stones in Hong Kong on December 2, 2015 confirmed several important facts about stone appreciation. The auction was managed by Christie’s Hong Kong Office and featured several important Chinese stones and a Japanese stone and artifacts from a private collection. In preparation for the auction, Christie’s published an attractive, detailed catalog Beyond White Cloud—Chinese Scholar’s Rocks From a Private Collection. The catalog itself is a valuable reference for serious collectors of Asian stones.
A small, 12 cm (4.5 inches) wide, black and white, Qing dynasty Ying stone sold for $29,168. This is an attractive horizontally oriented stone resting on a beautiful carved base. A larger upright Qing dynasty Ying stones that stands 34 cm (13.5 inches) high commanded a price of $45,373. This stone had been exhibited at the Henry Moore Foundation five years before this auction.
An inscribed upright Lingbi stone that can be traced to two collectors in the early Qing dynasty commanded one of the highest prices, $285,199, for a stone in this auction. This stone has a four line inscription from a poem by Su Shi and is signed by Jin Nong (1687-1763). Another inscription on this stone is a description of the stone and that it makes a clear sound when struck. This second inscription is attributed to Gao Fenghan (1683-1749).
This auction also included paintings of stones. One hanging scroll signed by the artist Lan Ying and dated 1659 drew a successful bid of $89,125. The painting features an upright, abstract stone with numerous holes. The artist was well known for his landscape paintings. A second smaller painting named Celestial Rock on a hanging scroll by Wang Yemei and dated 1881 sold for $4,861. Wang Yemei a well-known artist of the late Qing dynasty is known for his Yemei Shipu, a catalog of stone paintings.
A small Japanese Furuya stone with storage boxes and an album with comments and drawings of different stone connoisseurs sold for $38,891. The provenance records traces this stone to the late Edo period and then to a series to later collectors. The small landscape stone is 14.5 cm (5.8 inches) wide.
Not all the items in this auction sold; others did not command the prices at the higher end of their estimated value set by the auction house for each object. Despite that, we can draw several important conclusions from this auction.
First, fine examples of the well-known stones (Ying and Lingbi especially) from Imperial China increase in value and are prized by some collectors and museums. Chinese stones are preferred over Japanese stones due to their importance in the art and culture from the Tang and Sing dynasties to the end of the Qing dynasty.
Second, stones that have some degree of provenance records are rare treasures that give important clues about why and how they were appreciated in past generations. Inscriptions on the stones are part of the provenance of a stone; thus, they are also important in tracing the ownership of the stone.
The past ownership and venues where the stone has been exhibited can increase the importance of a stone as a viewing object, the appreciation factor, while concurrently adding to the monetary value of a stone.
We are strong advocates of maintaining accurate records for each stone in a collection, including where and when it has been exhibited and publication information including the date and the book or journal in which it appeared. Modern stones collected in our lifetimes may eventually become prized art objects in future generations.