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London lecture to preview auction of historic, rare painting

By Earle Gale in London | China Daily UK | Updated: 2018-10-26 16:54
Wood and Rock by Su Shi, an esteemed Chinese scholar, writer, painter, calligrapher and statesman, will be sold at auction in Hong Kong. [Vincent Yu / AP]

The upcoming auction of a 1,000-year-old Chinese painting described as one of the world's rarest will be previewed at a lecture in London on Monday, during the Asian Art in London festival.

Malcolm McNeill, a specialist in Chinese painting at Christie's auction house, will talk about Su Shi's Wood and Rock, which will be the star attraction at Christie's November auctions in Hong Kong.

McNeill said it is one of the most important Chinese works of art to ever be sold at auction.

"Su Shi's name is synonymous with the maximum creative potential of the human condition – he is at the apex of creative possibility," McNeill said ahead of the lecture, to be held Christie's flagship London office, on King Street.

The scroll, which was painted between 1071 and 1101, features 41 collectors' seals from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and Ming Dynasties (1368-1644).

The scroll was said to have been sold to a Japanese collector in Beijing in 1937 before disappearing from view. That sale was not without controversy because it followed Japan's invasion of China, and the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) that followed.

"It is something that I never expected to be able to see," McNeill said. "When I first set eyes on it, my initial reaction was one of shock. There was something overwhelming about it. The slow build of disbelief ultimately gave way to the realization that I was looking at the visceral, tangible trace of someone at the core of the Chinese artistic tradition. It was an experience bordering on the sacred."

Su Shi, who lived from 1037 to 1101, was a top scholar during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and was revered as a poet, politician, writer, calligrapher, painter, and aesthetic theorist. Wood and Rock is complemented with calligraphy by Mi Fu, a scholar and contemporary of Su.

Jonathan Stone, co-chairman of Asian Art at Christie's in Hong Kong, said: "Being able to offer at auction a work of such historic and cultural significance as Wood and Rock is the kind of moment that we live for at Christie's."

Very few of Su's paintings still exist and Christie's expects the scroll to fetch at least $51 million. Su Shi's companion painting to Wood and RockBamboo and Rock – resides in Beijing's National Art Museum. Other pieces are housed in the Shanghai Museum and Taipei's National Palace Museum.

Hong Kong's November auction season runs from Nov 23 to Nov 28. Wood and Rock is slated to be sold on the final day.

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