Specialists Talk About The True Value of 1000-Year-Old Chinese Painting by Su Shi

Last week, a 1000-year-old Chinese hand scroll was unveiled at Christie’s in Hong Kong, bringing the world’s attention to this extremely rare painting. Titled Wood and Rock, the masterpiece was created by Chinese polymath Su Shi. The painting is estimated at a whopping HK$400m (US$51m).

We have invited spokespersons from Christie’s to tell us more about the story of this painting, as well as the true value beyond the price tag. We talked to Jonathan Stone, Chairman of Asian Art, and Sophia Zhou, Junior Specialist of Chinese Paintings Department.

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

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

Q: What is the provenance of this painting?

Sophia: This painting was 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)

Q: How did Christie’s get this consignment?

Jonathan: As I think everybody knows we had the Fujita sale in March of 2017 in New York. Actually, it was very successful. And the reputation of that sale encouraged the consignors to contact us. Our specialists went very quickly to see the painting. We worked together with the family and we were able to secure the consignment.

Jonathan Stone, Chairman, Asian Art

The Fujita sale in March of 2017 in New York was phenomenal 

Q: Apart from this work, are there any more existing works by Su Shi?

Sophia: 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. This painting is the only one in private hands. Another painting that we know of is Bamboo and Rock in National Art Museum of China. And this one here is another example that we often see in textbooks.

Su Shi's calligraphy – The Cold Food Observance

Bamboo and Rock is now kept in the National Art Museum of China

Q: Why did Christie's decide to sell it through public auction, not private sale?

Jonathan: We discussed with the consignor what they would like to do. And we also thought that it was important to give an even playing field that everybody should have an equal opportunity to compete for the painting, and to acquire the painting.

Q: Su Shi is most famous for his poems. What’s so special about his paintings?

Sophia: Su Shi is a traditional literati. Unlike other court painters in the Song dynasty who were more restricted. Su Shi focused more on painting his feelings and what he deeply enjoyed. He was particularly obsessed with bamboo, so you see a lot of bamboo, rocks and wood in his works. It’s his representation of nature It’s very casual landscape painting. We think that Su Shi inspired later literati to express their feelings through paintings, and to paint in a causal, carefree manner. Su Shi is a pioneer in this field.

Sophia Zhou, Junior Specialist, Chinese Paintings Department

Q: What’s the estimate of Wood and Rock?

Jonathan: At the moment we are indicating an excess of HK$400m