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photographer E-Yaji.
The Mary and George Bloch Collection: Part VII  
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2013: Lot 40 

Lot 40

Lot 40
Treasury 3, no. 402 (‘The Fossilized Forest in Winter’)

Fossiliferous limestone; adequately but not extensively hollowed, with a flat lip and deeply recessed concave foot surrounded by a protruding rounded footrim
Height: 6.72 cm
Mouth/lip: 0.68/1.91 cm
Stopper: turquoise; coral finial; glass collar

Sotheby’s, London, 23 March 1988, lot 125
Robert Kleiner (1992)

Kleiner, Yang, and Shangraw 1994, no. 247
Treasury 3, no. 402

Hong Kong Museum of Art, March–June 1994
National Museum, Singapore, November 1994–February 1995

This unusual piece of material is both fossiliferous and conglomerate, including what appear to be pebbles of limestone, although the pebbles themselves have some fossiliferous material in them. Whatever quirk of geological circumstance settled pebbles of already fossiliferous material into the sediment, it was fortuitous for us. The result is one of the more spectacular stones in the range.
The broad, pale patch on one side appears to be coralline. Under close examination, the solid mass of cells created by the coral polyp is clearly visible.
This broad sweep of different colour and texture is powerfully placed at a diagonal on one side, providing a strong focus for any representational interpretation. It acts rather powerfully as a mountain torrent, gushing out from between rocks, perhaps the spring-source of a mountain stream. It could also be
read as a small pond in the mountains. Either interpretation allows nearby dark shapes to be read as a seated figure in a variety of different ways. The more jumbled shapes on the other main side act as the standard for any conglomerate of water running in a boulder-strewn river-bed, but other interpretations are also possible, several of them involving figure subjects, although one easily grasped and powerful image emerges if one reads the white space as the trunks and branches of trees and the dark space as foliage or, if winter trees, the distance.

There are Chinese precedents for reading such images in the patterns of stones. In his Yonglu xianjie (on which see Richard John Lynn’s introduction in JICSBS, Summer 1995), Zhao Zhiqian wrote

Jinzhou and all other kinds of stones sometimes have formed inside them landscapes and human figures that are very lifelike and realistic. They are engendered by a response to qi; although [such stones] are not easy to find, this is not a strange phenomenon.

Qi is often translated ‘vital spirit’; in various other works we find everything from parasitic plants on trees to emperors being engendered or born as a response to qi, which explains why the nineteenth-century scholar does not find these mineral landscapes and human figures strange or weird; they are part of a cosmic flow of energy.


This is not the Sotheby’s sale catalogue. This is a product of Hugh Moss for the purposes of this website. For the catalogue details please refer to Sotheby’s website or request a copy of a printed sale catalogue from Sotheby’s.


Easy link to this page: http://www.e-yaji.com/auction/photo.php?photo=1708&exhibition=12&ee_lang=eng


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