Su Shi’s Wood and Rock, Holy Grail of Chinese Painting, Sells for HK$463m

The highly-anticipated sale of Wood and Rock by Chinese literati Su Shi, the holy grail of Chinese painting, finally took place tonight. Wood and Rock was hammered down at HK$410m and sold for HK$463m (US$59.5m) with premium included, becoming the most valuable object ever sold by the auction house in Asia. The auction house said they are happy to see the painting return to Greater China. They believe the painting will be on public display in the future, hinting a possibility that the buyer could be an institution or museum.

Su Shi's Wood and Rock

Su Shi's Wood and Rock was hammered down at HK$410m

A portrait of Su Shi

The 1000-year-old Chinese handscroll has garnered widespread international coverage since its unveiling at the end of August. Before the official unveiling, The Value had an exclusive coverage about the consignment in June. At the time, the auction house had not decided whether to offer it through a private sale or a public auction.

The handscroll was offered at Christie’s Chinese work of art evening Beyond Compare: A Thousand Years of the Literati Aesthetic in Hong Kong. The sale attracted huge crowds of potential buyers, art dealers, journalists flocking into the saleroom. Unlike the usual biddings of high-value lots, the auction house required interested bidders to obtain a gold paddle in order to enter the bidding of Wood and Rock.

The gold paddle designed especially for the bidding of Wood and Rock

Sophia Zhou, Junior Specialist of Chinese Paintings Department

Rebecca Wei, President of Christie's Asia

The auctioneer Elaine Kwok opened the bidding at HK$300m and soon received several bids. Rebecca Wei, President of Christie’s Asia, offered a bid of HK$390m on behalf of her telephone client. It followed by Sophia Zhou, Junior Specialist of Chinese Paintings Department, offering the next bid at HK$400m, the estimated price the painting was expected the fetch. After a five-minute bidding battle, the painting was hammered down at HK$410m, a bid offered by Rebecca Wei’s client. It sold for HK$463m (US$59.5m) including buyer’s premium,becoming the most expensive work sold by the auction house in Asia.

After the evening sale, Rebecca Wei answered media questions at a press conference. Concerning the buyer’s identity, she said, “The buyer is from Greater China and we are happy to see this painting return to China after all these years”. She added, “Maybe the public will have a chance to see this painting again in the future.”, implying the painting was acquired by an institution or museum.

When asked about the sale performance, Rebecca Wei was pleased with the price realised, though the bidding was not as fierce as many expected it to be. She said it could be the deposit arrangement that screened out a number of potential buyers since bidders with a gold paddle needed to pay 40% of the reserve price of the painting, which was about HK$160m, in order to participate in the bidding.

The unveiling of Su Shi in August

For those who are not familiar with the Chinese painter who created this rare painting, Su Shi (also known as Su Dongpo), was a Chinese Da Vinci, a polymath from the Northern Song dynasty who excelled in his roles as writer, poet, painter, calligrapher. Highly revered for his academic and artistic achievement, Su enjoyed great popularity in China, Japan, and other areas in the near vicinity. With regard to his paintings, very few examples are known to have survived after all these years.

Su Shi's Wood and Rock

Wood and Rock is a painting from Su Shi to a person called ‘Master Feng’ in Runzhou. This master then invited Liu Liangzuo and Song great calligrapher Mi Fu to do colophons. These are the two earliest colophons at Su Shi’s time. Another two colophons were by Yu Xilu and Guo Chang from the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. The painting was passed on until the 1930s when it went to Japan.

Colophon by Liu Liangzuo

Colophon by Mi Fu

Colophon by Yu Xilu (right) and Guo Chang (left)

Su Shi’s calligraphy and books are extremely rare. Regarding his calligraphy, National Palace Museum has a Cold Food Observance by Su Shi. But his paintings are extremely rare. Beside the present one, which is the only known example kept in private hands, there is only one other example of Su Shi’s painting, Su Shi’s Bamboo and Rock in the collection of National Art Museum of China.

Su Shi's Cold Food Observance

Su Shi’s Bamboo and Rock is in the collection of National Art Museum of China

Su Shi is considered the pioneer of literati paintings, a form of Chinese painting created by scholar-painters who focused more on personal expression than the formal representation. Different from other court painters in the Song dynasty, Su Shi focused more on painting his feelings and what he deeply enjoyed. He was particularly obsessed with bamboo, and thus bamboo, wood and rock are recurring themes in his paintings.

Su Shi (1037-1101)’s Wood and Rock. Handscroll, ink on paper

Lot no.: 8008
Size: 26.3 x 50cm (image), 26.3 x 185.5cm (painting and colophons), 27.2 x 543cm (overall with mounting)
Colophon: Liu Liangzuo (11th century), Mi Fu (1051-1107), Yu Xilu (1278-1368), Guo Chang (1563-1622)
Collector’s seals: 41

  • Property from a Japanese Private Collection
  • Previously in the So¯raikan Collection of Abe Fusajiro¯ (1868-1937)

Estimate: HK$400,000,000
Hammer price: HK$410,000,000
Price realised: HK$463,600,000

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: Beyond Compare: A Thousand Years of the Literati Aesthetic (Evening Sale)
Sale date: 2018/11/26