Jin Nong (1687-1763) was a well-known painter active in Yangzhou area during the 18th century, and was coined as one of the 'Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou'. His non-orthodox painting style with unusual themes deviated from the literati tradition of muted landscapes and Buddhist imageries. Despite being an extremely learned scholar who had mastered both calligraphy and painting, Jin Nong never succeeded in attaining an official post through the civil service examination, and instead had to make a living by selling his paintings in Yangzhou.
The other signature Fenghan refers to Gao Fenghan (1683-1749), a highly accomplished painter, calligrapher and seal carver most famously known for his association with the 'Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou', a group of painters regarded for their unorthodox and individualistic painting styles. Born ito an erudite family, he served briefly in the government as governor of She County in Anhui, but was embroiled in a series of political conflicts leading to a short period of imprisonment, during which his right hand was paralysed. Once his charges were cleared and he was released from prison, Gao resigned from political life and moved to Yangzhou, where he became acquainted with the local literati circle and began to make a living by selling his paintings, which were highly sought after by wealthy families and connoisseurs in the area. After losing mobility in his right hand, Gao underwent rigorous training to paint with his left hand, resulting in an even bolder and freer style, which earned him his place as one of the greatest painters in Yangzhou and he was sometimes regarded as one of the famed Eight Eccentrics.
Lingbi stones have been the most prized and highly regarded stones by Chinese literati since the Song dynasty. Excavated from deep underground in Qing Shan area in northern Anhui, the Lingbi limestone has an extraordinarily high density which contributes to a clear and resonant sound when being tapped, leading to its association with ceremonial music. The Heavenly Temple (Tiantan) in Beijing, for example, has a well-preserved set of Lingbi stone bianqing chimes. Lingbi stones are also cherished for their deep colour and lustrous surface with a moist appearance at times. Though textual records indicate that Lingbi stones were treasured as garden rocks in the Song dynasty, extant examples of large, garden-sized Lingbi stones, such as the current lot, are extremely rare. A black Lingbi tiger-form rock of comparable size (52 cm. high) was included in the exhibition Worlds Within Worlds: The Richard Rosenblum Collection of Chinese Scholars' Rocks, The Asia Society, New York and others, 1996-1999, catalogue, pl. 2. In the catalogue entry, Robert Mowry states that 'This tiger-shaped rock numbers among the larger extant Lingbi stones, garden-sized specimens now being virtually unknown'.
Gao Fenghan, in the carved inscription of the present rock, extolled its unusual (qi) and penetrable (tou) qualities. Since the connoisseurship of scholar's rocks first became established in the Song dynasty, scholars had been using terms such as qishi (unusual stone), guaishi (strange stone) or yishi (mutated stone) to refer to rocks for appreciation in the garden or studio, reflecting their perception of scholar's rocks as a representation of a microcosm of the universe with many unknowns. The quality of tou is one of the four attributes considered essential to the appreciation of rocks by the rock admirer, Mi Fu from Northern Song dynasty. Tou refers to the openness, lightness and airiness which a stone imparts.