Bidding of the “Wood and Rock” by Su Shi, Lot 8008,
will require a high value paddle designated for this
Lot. Please contact us at email@example.com or
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One of the Rarest Discoveries in Chinese Art History
Su Shi’s Wood and Rock is among the most significant classical Chinese paintings in existence. It comes from the hand of one of the world’s greatest cultural luminaries, it embodies a revolution in the creative potential of the visual arts, and it is accompanied by centuries of commentaries that recognise its exceptionalism and uniqueness.
The location of Wood and Rock was unknown to the international scholarly community for most of the past century. A household name in the Chinese world, Su Shi is the quintessential “renaissance man” half a millennium before the Renaissance.
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A Great Name of Chinese Cultural History
Su Shi was a true polymath, excelling in art, literature and statecraft. His legacy looms large over Chinese culture. Su’s verses were sung in the streets of the Song empire a thousand years ago, and remain mandatory reading for Chinese students today. He was a
child prodigy who went on to achieve the highest honours in the imperial civil service examination. At the tender age of 24 Su passed the incredibly arduous decree examination, awarded a rank never surpassed in the history of the Northern Song dynasty. In spite of his genius, Su’s career fell foul of court factionalism. He underwent successive exiles to ever more remote regions, dying en route back to the capital in 1101 after the end of his final exile. While Su’s voluminous writings have been preserved in China’s literary cannon, his paintings are exceedingly rare. Wood and Rock is the only example still in private hands.
An Artistic Revolution
Wood and Rock embodies a seismic shift in world art history. In his terse, controlled brushstrokes Su explores painting’s capacity to express an artist’s psychological communion with nature. His contemporaries in the Song imperial atelier were required to carefully reproduce the world they observed. Su admired their accomplishments, but eschewed their approach in his own work. Instead he pursued subjects he described as having “inconstant form but constant principle.” He conceived ink painting as a process that xternalised the moral character of the artist in the moment of creation. A millennium on, Su’s creative process is still visible to us today. We see it in the sinewy strength of the twisted tree, the carefully contoured structure of the rock, and the liquid flexibility of the newly sprouting bamboo. Court painters recorded a sumptuous world before their eyes. Wood and Rock takes us into the mind of the artist.
A Renowned Work by Two Masters
As the scroll unrolls past the painting we find commentaries inscribed by successive generations of connoisseurs and collectors. Mi Fu (1051-1107), a close friend of Su Shi, is foremost among this illustrious roll of inscribers. Both Su and Mi rank among the four greatest calligraphers of the Song dynasty. Mi’s short verse reflects on Su’s long life, the introspection he was inclined to in his later years, and the profound value of their shared friendship. The undulating turns of Mi’s brush and his careful balance of form and rhythm make his inscription a masterpiece in its own right. Su and Mi’s deep affinity is visible in their paired examples of artistic excellence and signify a glorious monument of World Culture.