An extremely rare and exquisite 'bai furong' ink rest, by Zhou Bin Kangxi, dated early summer of 1706, Kangxi. Photo Bonhams
The stone of an attractive semi-translucent ivory white colour, exquisitely carved in a rectangular shape and worked on all sides in extraordinary detail, the upper surface intricately incised with an elaborate bafenshu inscription, the reverse with finely worked taotie, ruyi-head and C-scroll motifs, flanked at the sides with further archaistics scrolls, four-character inscription bingxu chuxia corresponding to the early summer of 1706, the reverse with a Zhou Bin zuogu signature of the carver and subject matter, all supported on an exquisitely carved zitanstand with four compressed globular feet at the ends, the central reticulated panel framing a bamboo shoot issuing offsprings of bamboo with leaves, the sides with alternating inverted ruyi-head scrolls. 6.7cm long (2). Estimate: HK$ 3 million - 5 million / US$ 390,000 - 650,000 / £240,000 - 400,000
Notes: Zhou Bin, alias Shang Jun, born in Zhangzhou, Fujian province is arguably the most accomplished and historically renowned soapstone carver. Although little is known of his exact dates, it is known that he lived during the early Qing dynasty and was an active soapstone carver during the Kangxi period. Zhou Bin's craftsmanship is complemented by the best quality soapstone utilised by him, demonstrable in the exquisite and rare 'baifurong' soapstone utilised here. 'Baifurong' first gained popularity in the late Ming dynasty and became a symbol of quality, especially in the early Qing period.
Throughout the Qing period, Zhou Bin's craftsmanship was appreciated by the scholar class where he expressed himself within their aesthetic. The painter Wu Changshuo (1844-1927) once admired a carved soapstone seal with inscription by Zhou Bin where he commented, "This stone was carved by Zhou Shangjun, we should especially treasure it". Only a small number of masterpieces by Zhou Bin is recorded in museums and private collections, of which the current lot is arguably one of the rarest. The baifurong stone retains a tranquil ivory white tone; the carving of the inscription and taotie motif is simple yet strong and supple as well as superbly executed.
The incised inscription on the current lot can be translated and summarise as:
There is an old saying that,
One should always hold their tongue and mind their own matters.
When in joyous occasions, one must keep composure.
It is clear to others what we are doing,
so even the smallest issue will have future repercussions.
Once trouble arises, one must resolve immediately;
this is the secret to success and happiness.
Those with greed and aggressiveness,
will meet a lot of enemies and will have bad endings.
One should be generous with good deeds to gain respect.
To be humble is to be less competitive.
Keep ones abilities within, so no one will think ill of me.
The inscription is titled 'Jinrenming' and originally derived from the 'Analects', the compilation of philosophical thoughts and moral teachings from Confucius. Is is believed to have been in existence since the Warring States and achieved its final complete form during the Han dynasty. 'Analects' had been one of the most widely read writings for the past two thousand years in Chinese history and has become a cornerstone of traditional values which has substantially influenced future generations.
The inscription is titled 'Jinrenming' and originally derived from 'Analects', the compilation of philosophical thoughts and moral teachings from Confucius. Is is believed to have been in existence since the Warring States and achieved its final complete form during the Han dynasty. 'Analects' had been one of the most widely read writings for the past two thousand years in Chinese history and has become a cornerstone of traditional values which has substantially influenced future generations.
In his definitive work on soapstone, Shoushanshi Zhi or 'Records of Shoushan Stone' Fujian, 1982, Fang Zonggui expounds that Zhou Bin's work encapsulated the technique ofxieyi, the thin and low-relief painterly style of carving. Xieyiliterally translates as 'idea painting', but in the eyes of the literati, through its association with a free, expressionist style, it transcended the medium of sculpture and became associated with the higher art of painting, thereby association with a free, expressionist style. This transcended the medium itself and became associated with the higher art of painting, thereby assuming the potential for profundity. Besides mentioning the sheer technical skill that is evident in the current lot, Fang also refers to Zhou Bin's work as being simple and rustic, a compliment reserved only for the highest levels of literati painting and calligraphy. Fundamentally, in the eyes of the literati, the important impression from a masterpiece of Zhou Bin, such as the current lot, is not only just the quality of the carving or the stone, but the deeper meaning conveyed through the profundity of his expression.
Ink rests are prized as the ideal facility on scholar's desk for placing ground and unfinished inkcakes when writing a calligraphy. The use of ink rests were greatly admired by the Emperors who usually associated themselves with a strong preference for scholarly connoisseurship and antiquity. Extant ink rests produced by the palace workshops are in a variety of materials. For an example of an ink rest worked from white jade from the Qing court collection, preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see Small Refined Articles of the Study. The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum, Shanghai, 2009, p.147, no.127. See also a Ming dynasty ink rest similar in form but with jade inlay from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Through the Prism of the Past: Antiquarian Trends in Chinese Art of the 16th to 18th Century, Taipei, 2004, p.38, pl.I-10.
Bonhams. 24 Nov 2012 15:00 CST Hong Kong. A Private North American Collection of Scholar's Objects