Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone
by Tom Elias
A rich stone appreciation culture was well established in China by the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). During the preceding Tang and Song dynasties, many artists, poets, and writers among the aristocracy and the vast government bureaucracy had assembled important collections and published many works that would be recognized over a thousand years later. The Ming dynasty is best known among stone connoisseurs for several important works. Most stone connoisseurs are familiar with Lin Yunlin’s Suyuan Shipu or Plain Garden Stone Catalog published between 1613 and 1630. This was the earliest comprehensive illustrated book of stones appreciated solely for their aesthetic qualities. This volume was reproduced many times throughout its history and was the subject of Scholar’ Rocks in Ancient China by Kemin Hu (2002). Few stone enthusiasts are familiar with another important illustrated Ming dynasty work on Chinese stones. A magnificent hand scroll, Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone, published in 1610 by artist Wu Bin stands prominently among the great artistic works relating to fantastic stones and in some aspects, is superior to the Plain Garden Stone Catalog.
This illustrated handscroll is linked to two important artists of the Ming dynasty. Mi Whangzong, a high-ranking bureaucrat and artist who served as a patron to Wu Bin. Mi assembled one of the great stone collections of the Ming dynasty and one of those stone, a Lingbi stone, was featured in Wu Bin’s scroll. Mi was a friend of Wu Bin and persuaded Wu to move to Beijing when Mi took up residence there. This scroll may have been made in Beijing not long after the move.
Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone hand scroll is about 11 meters long (almost 36 feet) and contains ten paintings and accompanying calligraphy. The same stone was painted from ten different views or orientations. The description of each view reveal how the owner perceived the different features of this irregular shaped stone. It is a remarkable work due to the exquisite detail in each painting. The brush and black ink on paper flow gracefully as it depicts every twist, turn and cavity of the stone. The curator of this exhibit, Stephen Little, curator of Chinese Art wrote in his introduction to this exhibit “These intricate lines combine with subtle washes of ink to convey the sense that one is looking not at stone, but at flames, or pure energy. What is most amazing is that Wu Bin, like other Chinese ink painters, achieved such a broad and complex range of visual effects using such minimal technical means as brush and ink.” Stone enthusiasts can begin to understand the Chinese concept of energy in stones when viewing the original paintings of Wu Bin. In contrast, the illustrations used in Suyuan Shipu appear simplistic and even crude when compared to Wu Bin’s works. The drawings in the Suyuan Shipu made by different artists lack the energy and depth of Wu Bin’s paintings.
Wu Bin’s original hand scroll Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone is the centerpiece of a small but excellent exhibition in the Resnick Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from December 10, 2017 until June 24, 2018. Several additional related works of art are included in this exhibition. Contemporary ink paintings of stones are displayed along with an excellent natural Taihu stone, an inscribed Lingbi stone, two wood sculptures that resemble stones, a modern stainless-steel stone, and a fascinating modern stone sculpture made of foam and painted bright red.
Fortunately, a limited-edition collectors box set of Wu Bin’s paintings together with a 48-page English supplement was published in early 2017. Crags and Ravines Make a Marvelous View is a large format, 54 x 36 cm (21 x 14 inches) set of ten folders edited by London Chinese antique dealer and stone connoisseur Marcus Flacks and translated by Richard John Lynn. Those who cannot afford the $1,500 price of the collector’s edition will be able to purchase a smaller format book, 15 x 24.9 cm (5.9 x 9.8 inch) edition that will be available in mid-February for $75. This volume, A Study of Wu Bin’s Unique 17th Century Scroll Painting ‘Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone” by Flacks and Lynn and includes contributions from Stephen Little and Zhu Liangzhi. The continued contributions from these Chinese scholars is fueling a greater interest among stone appreciation hobbyists throughout the world.