A Rare Classical Chinese Handscroll ‘Ten Views of Lingbi Rock’ Fetches in Excess of RMB 500m After Its Auction Debut 31 Years Ago

‘The North American Ten-Views of Lingbi Rock Retreat Collection’ is a collection full of highly coveted treasure, including the Yongzheng Imperial Blue-and-White ‘Dragon’ Tianqiuping that sold for RMB 147m in 2019, a record for the most expensive tianqiuping vase ever auctioned. A gilt lacquer bronze figure of Guandi from the Ming dynasty, the largest surviving Guandi sculpture in a seated posture that sold for HK$55.46m also came from this collection.

In 1989, a handscroll of Ten Views of Lingbi Rock by Wu Bin was sold in New York for US$1.21m and set the auction record for the most expensive Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy. It was a whopping price during the late 80s and the record was held for many years.

This handscroll was acquired by an American collector. The buyer loved it so much and named the whole trove after it as ‘The Ten-Views Lingbi Rock Retreat Collection’. Since then, the owner has started collecting Chinese works of art, such as Classical Chinese paintings, furniture and ceramics. Therefore, this handscroll is considered the most important art piece from this North American collection. 

Ten Views of Lingbi Rock (partial)

This autumn season in Beijing, this handscroll reappeared on the auction stage after 31 years. It was hammered down for RMB 446m after a fierce bidding that lasted nearly an hour. The final price after premium is over RMB 500m, making it the most expensive Chinese classical painting and breaking the auction record for any Chinese antiques.

Beijing Poly Auction didn’t reveal the estimate of the handscroll. It only announced that interested bidders need to pay a deposit of nearly RMB 30m (about US$4.5m), from which we can infer the estimate is likely to be in excess of RMB 100m (US$14.9m).

Handscroll of Ten Views of Lingbi Rock, Wu Bin. Ming Dynasty
Created in: circa 1610
Size: 26 x 112.5 cm; 47.5 x 143 cm; 55.5 x 1,150 cm; 55.5 x 1,132 cm;

  • Collection of Wenfu, Saying'a and tohombu (Qing officials)
  • Sotheby’s New York. 6 December 1989. Classical Chinese Paintings, Lot39
  • The Ten-Views Lingbi Rock Retreat Collection. No. SO110

Estimate upon request
Opening bid: RMB 100,000,000
Hammer price: RMB 446,000,000
Price realised: Between RMB 506m - 512.9m (depending on the buyer's premium, which is calculated based on the date of payment) 

The auctioneer started the bidding at around 9pm on 18 October 2020 with an opening bid at RMB 100m. The price quickly increased to RMB 200m after three bids. It went steadily up to RMB 300m and bidders seem to be more prudent after this price point, but it didn't stop new bidders from joining in. The moment the price reached RMB 400m, it was bound to set a new auction record. Two tenacious bidders fought till the end and the winner gained victory with a hammer price at RMB 446m (US$66.6m).

The final price sold will be calculated based on the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium, which varies from 13.5% - 15% depending on the payment date. Hence, the final price sold will be between RMB 506m (US$75.5m) and RMB 512.9m (US$76.5m). That means the handscroll is the second most expensive Chinese artwork, following Qi Baishi’s Twelve Landscape Screens (Sold for RMB 931m, shown as above). It also marks the third time Wu Bin’s work setting the auction record for Chinese Classical painting:

  • 1989: Ten Views of Lingbi Rock. US$1.21m
  • 2009: The Eighteen Luohans. RMB 169m
  • 2020: Ten Views of Lingbi Rock. RMB 506m - 512.9m

The Eighteen Luohans by Wu Bin that sold for RMB 169m in 2009

Ten Views of Lingbi Rock (partial)

Ten Views of Lingbi Rock (partial)

Ten Views of Lingbi Rock (partial)

In ancient China strange and marvellous stones were valued for their beauty and as reflections of the hidden structures underlying the universe. Wu Bin’s Ten Views of Lingbi Rock comprises 10 separate views of a single stone from the famous site of Lingbi, Anhui Province. Lingbi stones are some of the prized examples of scholars’ rocks, rocks that were widely appreciated by Chinese literati and displayed in the rarefied atmosphere of their studios. Chinese scholars often drew inspiration from the natural world by using these ‘representations of mountains’.

During the Wanli reign (1572-1620) in the Ming dynasty, a famous painter and calligrapher Mi Wanzhong, who was also an avid collector of scholars’ rocks, bought a lingbi stone and invited Wu Bin to draw a painting for it. The shape of the rock is so peculiar that Wu Bin took a month to study it before successfully transposing its shapes in ten different views on the handscroll. Each view is accompanied by the calligraphy and description by Mi Wanzhong. The handscroll is thus called ‘Ten Views of Lingbi Rock’.

A scholars’ rock from the North American Ten-Views of Lingbi Rock Retreat Collection will also be offered at the sale

Ten Views of Lingbi Rock (partial)

Ten Views of Lingbi Rock (partial)

Ten Views of Lingbi Rock (partial)

Wu Bin was a native of Putian in Fujian. He was active around the time of the Wanli reign. He gained a reputation for his talent in painting while still young while also gifted at poetry and prose. As a devout follower of Buddhism, he reverently chanting scriptures on a daily basis and created many Buddhist-themed paintings. In the late Wanli reign, he travelled to the northern capital of Beijing and served as a court painter.

He also was influenced by the unbridled and expressionistic brushwork in Zhe School painting. His landscapes often reveal spindly and monumental peaks stretching the bounds of conventional structures. His Buddhist figure paintings feature exaggerated forms suggesting his pursuit of spiritual likeness. And in bird-and-flower painting, Wu Bin focused on the unusual to stretch the boundaries of appearance. Consequently, later people used such terms as ‘fantastic’ and ‘extraordinary’ to praise the fascinating new manner that he developed.

Some of Wu Bin’s work can be found in the collection of renowned art institutions like the two Palace Museums, Nanjing Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cleveland Museum of Art.

The inscription and colophon part of the handscroll spans over 1.1 meters, written by prominent members of the Ming's official court, including Mi Wanzhong, Dong Qichang, Ye Xianggao, Li Weizhen, Chen Jiru and Ju Diguang, etc.

Some research suggests that the actual lingbi stone acquired by Mi Wanzhong was ruined in the late Ming or early Qing. According to the auction house, some people used 3D printing technology to recreate the exact lingbi stone based on the handscroll. Nevertheless, the reproduction can never fully capture the beauty shown in Ten Views of Lingbi Rock.

Beijing Poly Auction 15th Anniversary Auction
Venue: China World Summit Wing Beijing
Sale: Handscroll of Ten Views of Lingbi Rock by Wu Bin
Special Sale of the Ten-Views of Lingbi Rock Retreat’s Collection of Chinese Classical Paintings, Calligraphy and Scholars’ Rock
Sale date: 18 October 2020 | 7:30pm