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Ancient painting’s sale sets record

Lin Qi
Updated: Dec 6,2016 9:29 AM     China Daily

Five Drunken Kings on Horses, a painting by Ren Renfa (1255-1327), was auctioned for $44 million on Dec 4.[Photo/COURTESY OF BEIJING POLY AUCTION]

Five Drunken Kings on Horses, a Chinese classical painting of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), sold for 303.6 million yuan ($44 million) at a Beijing auction on Dec 4, a record high for a Chinese painting so far this year.

The color painting drew a packed room of bidders at Beijing Poly Auction’s sale of ancient Chinese paintings and calligraphy. The bidding started at 68 million yuan and lasted about 40 minutes.

Zhao Xu, Poly Auction’s executive director, said after the sale that the transaction price was far beyond expectations, given that the market for Chinese art has been in a slump over the past three years.

The painting was created by Ren Renfa (1255-1327), a high-ranking official in charge of water conservancy in the Mongol-ruled court. In his spare time, he achieved prominence as a painter of horses and grooms.

Zhao said that Ren’s painting deserves a high price because his works are quite rare-about 20 pieces in total, many of which are in the collections of art museums around the world, making the auctioned one a rare piece available to private collectors.

The painting, a 2-meter-long hand scroll, depicts Li Longji, then the King of Linzi before ascending the throne as the seventh emperor of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and his four brothers returning from a feast.

The painting demonstrates Ren’s master techniques of highlighting the details of horses, and the way that he built up colors and shadings lends a dynamic feel to the figures’ costumes.

The painting was kept in the imperial collection of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and was cataloged in Shiqu Baoji, a prestigious inventory of the Qing emperors’ assembly of paintings and calligraphic pieces.

The painting was transported out of the Forbidden City by Pu Yi, the Qing emperor who was forced to abdicate, in 1922. In the late 1940s, it was taken to the United States, where it was acquired by collector Walter Hochstadter.

After Hochstadter died in 2007, his family sold the painting for HK$46 million ($5.93 million) at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong in 2009.

In Poly’s sale of modern Chinese paintings on the same night, Painting Album of Landscapes by Qi Baishi (1864-1957) brought 195.5 million yuan, the second-highest price paid for Qi’s work at auction.

Qi’s Eagle on Pine Trees sold for 425.5 million yuan at a Beijing auction in 2011, a record for the artist.

The most expensive classical Chinese ink art sold at auction is Di Zhu Ming, a calligraphic hand scroll by Song Dynasty master Huang Tingjian that fetched 436.8 million yuan in Beijing in 2010.