Oil sets HK$72m record for Chinese painting

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 April, 2007, 12:00am

An oil painting by late Chinese artist Xu Beihong fetched HK$72 million at auction in Hong Kong, a world record for a Chinese painting.

Put Down Your Whip, painted in 1939, was the main item to go under the hammer at an auction of contemporary Chinese art yesterday, which generated HK$214 million.

The painting attracted intense interest when it was unveiled halfway through the sale.

Bidding opened at HK$26 million and was quickly pushed up to HK$60 million by five bidders - two in the venue and three on the phone. After 10 minutes' bidding, the painting was bought by a phone bidder who requested anonymity.

The seller was said to be an Asian collector.

The painting, 144cm by 90cm and completed in 1939 during Xu's stay in Singapore, was inspired by an anti-Japanese street drama of the same title staged by his actress friend Wang Ying. It took him just 10 days.

Cheung Chiu-kwan, head of Sotheby's Chinese paintings department, said Xu had perfectly incorporated western oil painting techniques into a traditional Chinese painting.

The painting was completed at the height of his artistic powers, critics said.

Yesterday was the first time in 50 years the painting had been seen in public. It had remained in Singapore until its recent return to Chinese soil.

Sotheby's Asia chairwoman Patti Wong said the record sale 'demonstrates that collectors are willing to pay premium prices for seminal works, especially for such a rare masterpiece'.

The previous record price for a Chinese oil painting was HK$53.9 million, set at a Christie's auction in Hong Kong in November for another painting by Xu, Slave and Lion.

Xu, known as the father of modern Chinese painting, trained in Paris. He died of a stroke in 1953.