Song dynasty scroll may set Asian art auction record

Wood And Rock, an extremely rare, 1,000-year-old ink painting by Song dynasty artist Su Shi, is being put up for auction by Christie’s in Hong Kong in November. Its value is estimated to be more than $70 million.
Wood And Rock, an extremely rare, 1,000-year-old ink painting by Song dynasty artist Su Shi, is being put up for auction by Christie’s in Hong Kong in November. Its value is estimated to be more than $70 million. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • An extremely rare, 11th-century Chinese scroll could set an auction price record for an Asian work of art, when it goes on the block at Christie's November Hong Kong sale.

Estimated in excess of HK$400 million (S$70 million), the work is one of only two known scrolls produced by Song dynasty artist Su Shi, and the first to ever appear at an auction, Christie's said.

The other resides in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.

"This is simply the best Chinese painting you could possibly get," said Mr Jonathan Stone, co-chairman of Christie's Asian art department, who likened the piece's significance and rarity to that of Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci. "In the purely market sense, there is comparability."

Su Shi, a household name in China, was an 11th-century scholar, statesman, poet, writer, calligrapher and artist whose painting style has influenced virtually every Chinese painter ever since, according to Mr Kim Yu, Christie's international senior specialist of Chinese paintings.

He began an "aesthetic revolution" that departed from the highly detailed and meticulous academic Song dynasty works, which required months to complete.

Su Shi's Wood And Rock is a simple and spontaneous work created for the artist's personal pleasure and painted in one sitting, Mr Yu said.

Measuring nearly 28cm high and almost 50cm wide, the original inkon- paper work depicts a gnarled, leafless tree and a rock behind which a few young bamboo shoots emerge.

Between the 11th and 16th century, four "colophons", or commentaries by famous calligraphers, were added to the scroll, which is now more than 1.8m long. The scroll also exhibits the seals of 41 collectors, which provide an unimpeachable record of its ownership provenance.

Like Da Vinci, Su Shi was a "renaissance man", though long before the Western concept came into existence several centuries later, Mr Stone said.

The present owner is a Japanese family that acquired it from a Chinese dealer in 1937. They contacted Christie's about selling it after the success of a US$263 million (S$359 million) sale of Chinese works of art from the Fujita Museum it held in New York in March last year.

The record for an Asian work of art at an auction was set in 2010 in Beijing for a handscroll sold at Poly International Auction for US$64 million, including buyer's premium added to the hammer price.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2018, with the headline 'Song dynasty scroll may set Asian art auction record'. Print Edition | Subscribe