Ancient Chinese painting auctioned for nearly $60M

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A section of the painting entitled Wood and Rock by Song Dynasty pre-eminent scholar Su Shi (1037-1101) is shown during a media preview of Christie’s Hong Kong Autumn Sale in Hong Kong on August 30. PHILIP FONG/AFP

A NEARLY 1,000-year-old ink painting by one of China’s greatest literati masters Su Shi fetched $59.5 million at auction, Christie’s said on Monday.

The auction house has described the Song Dynasty artwork created by Su 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.

Su Shi, also known as Su Dongpo, is one of the most important cultural figures in Chinese history and 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 literati of the 11th century in China, and also exhibits the seals of 41 collectors.

“The number of the works securely attributed to him are very few, probably only two or three. They are extremely rare,” Jonathan Stone, deputy chairman for Christie’s Asian art department, said in an earlier preview.

In 2010, “Dizhuming”, a Chinese calligraphy scroll by Huang Tingjian – Su Shi’s student – sold for $64 million at Poly Auction in Beijing.

Hong Kong’s auction houses have seen frenzied bidding among Asian buyers in recent years, with sales of diamonds, paintings and ancient ceramics shattering world records.

A 10-metre-long triptych entitled Juin-Octobre 1985 by Zao Wou-Ki – one of the 20th century’s most prominent Chinese painters – fetched $65 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in September.