A Rare Album of 18 Fan-Leaf Chinese Paintings Could Fetch US$7.7m

A 1000-year-old handscroll entitled Wood and Rock by Chinese polymath Su Shi (1037-1101) from the Song dynasty has garnered widespread international media coverage following its official unveiling in Hong Kong in August. It is poised to set a new auction record for Chinese paintings with the estimate of HK$400m (US$51m).

In addition to Su Shi’s Wood and Rock, the auction house is going to offer a rare album of 18 fan-leaf painting from Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties, the oldest of which are likely to be around 1000-year-old. The album is valued at HK$60m-100m (US$7.69m-12.8m). We interviewed a specialist from Christie’s Chinese Painting department to better understand the rarity of this album.

Su Hanchen, Children at Play

In the history of Chinese art the Song dynasty is regarded as the peak of artistic achievement. It is a period that saw the rise of literati paintings, a form of Chinese painting created by scholar-painters who focused more on personal expression than the formal representation. Su Shi is one of the pioneers of literati paintings.

Chinese traditional gongbi paintings also reached its zenith during the Song dynasty. Gongbi, meaning ‘meticulous brush craftsmanship’ in Chinese, is a realist technique that seeks to render details precisely. The present set of album with 18 round fan leaves on silk, all of which are approximately the same size, features the paintings of various Song and Yuan artists.

Huang Jucai, Flower and Butterfly

Yi Yuanji, The Trifling Monkeys

There are very few surviving examples of high-quality Song fan-leaf paintings, so each individual piece can be sold for prices more than HK$2m at auctions. It’s even rare that this album has a total of 18 leaves, featuring some of the greatest names in Chinese art.

Rice-Plant and Bird

Xu Daoning, Homeward Bound

The fan leaf was the favourite form of the Song academy painters; its round and oval shape suggests it was originally mounted on a flat fan for decoration. For the purposes of storage and display, later collectors often combined groups of otherwise unrelated paintings as an album. Started by a well-known Qing collector Wu Rongguang (1773-1843), the compilation took four generations to assemble the present album.

Seals on Mountains and Woods

Mountains and Woods

Many Song paintings were created on silk, which makes the perservation more difficult. When mildew grows on delicate fabric like silk, it can deteriorate the silk beyond repair. Thus, the collectors mounted on individual pages and then assembled in a book-like structure to avoid too much sunlight exposure.

Li TangCow and Herd Boy 

An album such as this one offers a much more intimate viewing experience than other formats of Chinese painting. The very act of leafing through the album creates a sense of suspense as the various scenes unfold before the viewer’s eyes.

Fan Kuan, Travellers in Snowy Valley

This album offers a rare, kaleidoscopic glimpse of life during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Scholars travelling through a landscape; a boy herding a buffalo, which seems to be marching resolutely off in the opposite direction; a scholar reading in a pavilion under bamboo trees; the family tending to the elders, while an attendant serves food and tea. There are also images of flowers, animals, birds and insects.

Plum Flowers and Reflection of the Moon

Due to the small size of the fan leaf, the pictures had to be composed concisely, and the beauty of these paintings suggests that they were by the hands of the most highly skilled artists.

Lot details

A Set of 18 Round Fan Leaves on Silk from Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) Dynasties

Lot no.: 930
Provenance: Property from a Private Collection
Estimate: HK$60,000,000 - $100,000,000 (US$7,690,500-12,817,500)

Auction details
Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: Fine Chinese Classical Paintings and Calligraphy
Lots offered: 148
23 November 2018|10am - 8pm
24-26 November 2018|10am - 6:30pm
Auction date: 27 November 2018|10:30am