Chambers Fine Art juxtaposed a selection of classical furniture, Scholar's Objects, and the photography of Sidney D.Gamble (1860-1968), for the exhibition, The Chinese Scholar's Mind. Gamble, an American sociologist and scholar of China, took photographs from 1908 to 1932 that offer significant insights into the historical and cultural conditions of the times. These remarkable photographs accompany furniture from Shanxi province, Jiangsu province, Zheziang province and Gansu province.
The exhibition explores the influence of the philosophy of the Chinese scholar on furniture and the accoutrements of the scholarly life. Dating from the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the furniture in this exhibition, elegant in its simplicity and sophisticated in structure, comes from many provinces of China. Although it is possible to admire it from a purely aesthetic point of view, it assumes deeper meaning when seen as the physical manifestation of deeply held philosophical views. Chinese scholars practiced meditation and cultivated tranquility since they were influenced by the ideas and calmness of Daoism, and by the ideology of Buddhism. The fundamental premise of Ming furniture was to crystallize the atmosphere of tranquility in the simplicity of its structure and form. Perhaps it is the feeling of tranquility that emanates from Ming furniture that accounts for the deep satisfaction it brings.
Among the outstanding pieces in the exhibition are two Canopy Beds, a rare eight- post example in Southern elm (Jumu) dating from the 17th century and a six-post example in elm dating from the 18th century. All the major forms of chairs - Comb-back, Yokeback, Southern Official's Hat Armchairs, Horseshoe- back Armchairs and folding chairs - are represented as well as a selection of painting tables, of supreme importance to scholars. The furniture that delighted scholars three hundred years ago has lost none of its appeal to contemporary collectors.
During his four extended stays in China - in 1908, 1917-1919, 1924-27 and 1931-1932 - Sidney Gamble traveled widely as he accumulated the materials for his classic social studies, including Peking: A Social Survey, 1921 and How Chinese Families Live in Peiping, 1933. The massive amount of documentation required for his social surveys was enlivened by the thousands of photographs that he took during the course of his travels. In photographs such as North China Union Women's College Library, 1919 and Bell and Stone Drums, 1918, Gamble focused his camera on a world as yet unmarred by the turbulent events taking place in the streets.
Sidney D. Gamble
Sidney D. Gamble (1890 - 1968) was a pioneer sociologist who worked in China between 1917 and 1932. His researches resulted in the publication of four remarkable studies of Chinese life: Peking: A Social Survey, 1921; How Chinese Families Live in Peiping, 1933; Ting Hsien: A North China Rural Community, 1954; and North China Villages: Social, Political, and Economic Activities Before 1933, 1963. These groundbreaking studies of Chinese life are still used as basic reference material by writers and scholars.
In 1984, Sidney Gamble's daughter, Catherine Gamble Curran, discovered 5,000 black and white negatives, 600 hand colored glass slides and 21 rolls of 16 mm movie film that had been taken by Gamble and which had been relegated to an attic cupboard in the family home. The Sidney D. Gamble Foundation for China Studies, Inc. was founded in 1986 to manage this archive and to make it available to the general public. Images have appeared in numerous books and publications including Jonathan Spence's The Search for Modern China and The Chinese Century.