Stones in Art

Fantastic stones were embraced by the Chinese literati and bureaucrats beginning with the Tang dynasty (618-917 C.E.). The interest in stones continued later by wealthy businessmen. Some of the educated collected stones and composed poems about stones. Painters prominently featured stones in their works, while others wrote about stones and published stone catalogs known as shipu. Viewing stones played a key role in Chinese arts and these stones were highly valued, respected, and even revered.

One example of early interest in stones is a poem, Twenty Rhymes on Finding a Tai Lake Stone, by Tang dynasty bureaucrat Niu Sengru (779-849). Su Shi, a prominent Song dynasty (960-1279) poet and writer, published Notes on Strange Stones; while Mi Fu proposed four attributes of interesting stones. In the late Song dynasty, the well-known Yunlin Shipu or Stone Catalog of Cloudy Forest was published by Du Wan. Writers, painters, and poets continued to produce works throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Ming dynasty Suyuan Shipu or Suyuan’s Stone Catalog is the earliest and most comprehensive illustrated work on Chinese stone appreciation.

The tradition of painting, writing poems, articles and books about fantastic stones has continued to the present. Fine examples of modern works of art featuring stones can be found in the marketplace, particularly in antique shops featuring stones.

The interesting modern painting above features an unusual stone. It is the work of Keren (可人), pen name Mei Yun Shan Guan (梅云山馆). This painting is from the collection of Thomas S. Elias and Hiromi Nakaoji. The artist included a short poem about the stone illustrated in this painting. The following translation of the poem was provided by Wong Yuen Hung for VSANA.


“Where did that piece of stone come from?
It looks so grand.
It turns crazy Mi’s head again and again,
And Fan Xiang lingers around it.
Thousand spots of green moss, wild bamboo one, two…….
Flowers faded and birds flew away with spring.
He faces you just as quiet as ever.”


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