Su Shi’s Wood and Rock to be Unveiled at Christie’s Hong Kong Next Thursday

Two months ago, The Value published an exclusive article about Christie’s consignment of a 'holy grail' of classical Chinese painting – Wood and Rock by an acclaimed Chinese poet and painter Su Shi (1037-1101). Christie’s has made an official announcement today confirming the news. The historic unveiling of this important work will be held next Thursday in Hong Kong.

Su Shi’s Wood and Rock

Part of Su Shi’s Wood and Rock

Su Shi’s Wood and Rock

The auction house has not shared much information about the painting. As far as we know, this painting, dubbed ‘a priceless cultural treasure’, is going to lead Christie’s autumn sales in Hong Kong. It is described by the auction house as ‘possibly the world’s rarest and most valuable Chinese painting’.

Part of Su Shi’s Wood and Rock

Last year, Christie’s caused a sensation in the art world with US$450m Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci. There are only about 14 Da Vinci paintings in the world now. However, Su Shi’s works are even rarer in terms of the number of extant pieces. Very few examples are known to have survived after all these years.

Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci

So far, there are only two to three authenticated paintings in existence. One is Bamboo and Rock (xiaoxiang zhushi tu) in National Art Museum of China. There is another one Bamboo in Rain (Yu Zhu) in the collection of National Palace Museum in Taipei. The one to be offered by Christie’s is the only known example in private hands. We had previously learnt that the painting is estimated at HK$450m.

Part of Su Shi’s Wood and Rock

Su Shi, also known as Su Dongpo, was a Chinese writer, poet, painter, calligrapher from the Northern Song dynasty. Highly revered for his academic and artistic achievement, Su enjoyed great popularity in China, Japan, and other areas in the near vicinity.

A portrait of Su Shi

Wood and Rock, measuring around 27 x 51 cm, was painted by Su Shi when he was a governor of Xuzhou. The composition of the work is simply. Placed on the right is a withered tree with branches resembling antlers and on the left is a strange rock in a shape echoing a snail. Unlike most classical Western paintings which seek resemblances in form, Chinese paintings purse spiritual resemblances.

It is also recorded in an old archive that Su Dongpo’s paintings were highly sought-after even during his time in the Song dynasty.

Su Dongpo’s Bamboo and Rock is now kept in the National Art Museum of China

Rumour has it that Wood and Rock and Bamboo and Rock both formerly belonged to a collector in Shandong. Both works were then sold to a collector called Bai Jianfu, who later sold Bamboo and Rock to Deng Tuo (1912-1966), editor-in-chief of newspaper People's Daily. Whereas the Wood and Rock is reported to be sold to a Japanese collector while Bai was in Japan.

Fans of Chinese art, don’t forget to mark the date 30 August on your calendar. Not only will Christie’s unveil Su Shi’s Wood and Rock next Thursday, Sotheby’s will also showcase highlights of its coming autumn sales, including a HK$200m Qianlong Falangcai poppy bowl. Please stay tuned!