Weng Family Collection of Chinese Painting: Art Rocks

On view in the Asian Paintings Gallery through November 27, 2023

In China, rocks in their natural form are objects of great aesthetic appreciation. As far back as 1,000 years ago, serious art collectors and critics acquired and competed for rocks with the same passion they afforded great works of painting and calligraphy. Rather than celebrating superficial beauty, collectors exalted imperfection for its expressive possibilities and sought rocks that were not symmetrical or smooth or pretty. They used terms like strange, weird and awkward as complimentary descriptions of the rocks they most preferred. The humble rock became, like an abstract sculpture, a medium to explore forms and textures, and to express one’s inner being. In the minds of serious connoisseurs, rocks, as microcosms of mountains—or even the entire universe—were meditations on life itself.

From 2018 to 2021, Wan-go H. C. Weng (1918–2020) made the largest gift of Chinese paintings and calligraphy to the MFA in the institution’s history, comprising more than 390 objects acquired and passed down through six generations of his family. Rocks were integral to the Weng family’s art collection, as subjects of paintings and as art objects themselves. On view through November 27, 2023, Weng Family Collection of Chinese Paintings: Art Rocks features more than 25 works from the gift that explore how rock aesthetics have permeated architecture, landscape design and painting styles in China for a millennium. Visitors can envision themselves in paintings of gardens where colossal rocks loom over a scholar’s studio, or scenes of fantastical caves where artists gaze in awe at mysterious rock formations. And rocks of all kind—large and small, weird and imperfect—are on view throughout the exhibition, welcoming viewers to ponder, explore or, like the ancient poets, venerate.

This is the third in a series of three exhibitions celebrating the landmark donation made by Wan-go H. C. Weng, a longtime supporter of the MFA who, until he passed away in 2020 at the age of 102, devoted his life to the preservation, study and promotion of China’s cultural heritage.

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Sarah Drumm