Su Shi scroll painting sells for almost $60 million in Hong Kong

Wood and Rock, the 1,000-year-old scroll painting that sparked an aesthetic revolution in China, realises HK$463,600,000 — the most expensive object ever sold by Christie’s in Asia

One of the key highlights of Christie’s Autumn 2018 auction season in Hong Kong, Beyond Compare: A Thousand Years of the Literati Aesthetic, realised HK$717,310,000 (just over $92 million), and was 90.4 per cent sold by lot and 98.7 per cent by value.

It was fitting that this special sale showcasing a millennium of Chinese art history was led by Su Shi’s Wood and Rock, a 1,000-year-old masterpiece by the scholar official who was one of the greatest cultural figures in the ancient world

The scroll painting, which began an aesthetic revolution in China, sparked a bidding battle that lasted for just over five minutes before selling for $HK$463,600,000 / $59,505,898 (including buyer’s premium). As the hammer came down, applause rang out in the Grand Hall of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. 

The price made the ancient artwork the most expensive object ever sold by Christie’s in Asia, surpassing the HK$348.4 million paid for an Imperial embroidered silk thangka  on this day four years ago.

Su Shi (1037-1101), Wood and Rock. Overall with mounting 27.2 x 543  cm (10¾ x 213¾  in). Sold for $HK463,600,000 on 26 November 2018 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Su Shi (1037-1101), Wood and Rock. Overall with mounting: 27.2 x 543 cm (10¾ x 213¾ in). Sold for $HK463,600,000 on 26 November 2018 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

The second highest price in the 21-lot sale was for an extremely rare Ru ware sky blue ‘tea bowl’ (below), one of fewer than 100 pieces of Ru ware that survive intact today. Ru ware is regarded as the most beautiful of all Chinese ceramics, and its scarcity means it is highly coveted by collectors and institutions.

To offer some context, the National Palace Museum in Taipei houses 21 Ru wares, The Palace Museum in Beijing has 15, The National Museum of China has eight pieces in its collection, and the British Museum only four. The bowl, which is a recent discovery and was shown for the first time in a major exhibition in Osaka in 2016, realised HK$56,350,000.

For all the results, see below

The next lot in the sale, an important Longquan celadon ‘kinuta vase’, is also representative of the objects that Su Shi and his fellow scholar officials would have interacted with on a daily basis. This extremely rare embodiment of the refined aesthetic of the Southern Song court achieved HK$42,850,000, a world auction record for a Longquan celadon ceramic.

An important and extremely rare Ru ‘sky-blue’ tea bowl, Northern Song dynasty, late 11th-early 12th century. 4  in (10.2  cm)  diam, Japanese wood boxes, one inscribed Seiji Chawan (celadon tea bowl). Sold for HK$56,350,000 on 26 November 2018 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

An important and extremely rare Ru ‘sky-blue’ tea bowl, Northern Song dynasty, late 11th-early 12th century. 4 in (10.2 cm) diam, Japanese wood boxes, one inscribed Seiji Chawan (celadon tea bowl). Sold for HK$56,350,000 on 26 November 2018 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

The fourth-highest price on the night was achieved with the final lot, an important and extremely rare Jun ‘number four’ jardinière from the Yuan-early Ming dynasty (14th-15th century). Jun wares are some of the most striking ceramics of the Song, Jin and Yuan periods, and this piece sold for HK$33,700,000.

Fast-forwarding 1,000 years from the time Su Shi painted Wood and Rock, the influence of the Song literati aesthetic can be clearly seen in Zhou Chunya’s Tree Series  (1993), in which a tree, reminiscent of Su Shi’s, coils skywards. 

Zhou Chunya (b. 1955), Tree Series, painted in 1993. 195 x 130  cm (76¾ x 51⅛  in). Sold for HK$30,100,000 on 26 November 2018 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Zhou Chunya (b. 1955), Tree Series, painted in 1993. 195 x 130 cm (76¾ x 51⅛ in). Sold for HK$30,100,000 on 26 November 2018 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Zhou embarked on an intensive study of works by Chinese literati and their free, impressionistic style after returning to China from Europe in 1989. Fusing tradition and modernity, East and West, the painting sold for HK$30,100,000.

Landscapes and Calligraphy  by Bada Shanren (1626-1705), created more than six centuries after Su Shi and 300 years before Zhou Chunya, further demonstrated the longevity of the the Song literati aesthetic tradition. Offered as the third lot, it realised HK$24,100,000, more than four times the low estimate. 

After the sale, Jonathan Stone, Co-Chairman Asian Art and Christie’s Deputy Chairman Asia, remarked on how honoured Christie’s was to be entrusted with the sale of ‘such a culturally significant’ work as Su Shi’s Wood and Rock, with the price achieved ‘establishing its position amongst the most important works in Chinese history.’