HONG KONG • A nearly 1,000-year-old ink painting by Su Shi, one of China's greatest literati masters, has proven a hugh draw, fetching US$59.5 million (S$81.8 million) at auction.
Auction house Christie's had described the Song dynasty artwork as "one of the world's rarest Chinese paintings".
Entitled Wood And Rock, the ink-on-paper handscroll depicts a dragon-like old tree with withered branches and a sharp rock resting at its root.
The painting was the most expensive item ever sold in Christie's Asia, it said, with the successful client bidding by telephone on Monday.
The artist, also known as Su Dongpo, is one of the most important cultural figures in Chinese history. He was an esteemed scholar, poet, prose-writer, painter, calligrapher and statesman.
The 185.5cm-long scroll is inscribed with calligraphy and the poems of four important poets of the 11th century in China, and also exhibits the seals of 41 collectors.
"The number of the works securely attributed to Su are very few, probably only two or three. They are extremely rare," Mr Jonathan Stone, deputy chairman for Christie's Asian art department, said in an earlier preview. The scroll is one of only two known to exist.
Su is often compared to Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci for his renaissance qualities.
Bidders were required to pay a deposit of US$20 million just to wield a special gold-coloured paddle.
The last known owner of the scroll was a Japanese family that had possessed it since 1937.
The only other scroll known to have been done by Su is in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.
In 2010, Dizhuming, a Chinese calligraphy scroll by Huang Tingjian - Su's student - sold for US$64 million at Poly Auction in Beijing.
In recent years, Hong Kong's auction houses have seen frenzied bidding among Asian buyers, with sales of diamonds, paintings and ancient ceramics often shattering world records. A 10m-long triptych by Chinese painter Zao Wou-Ki fetched US$65 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong in September.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG