Shanghai art experts question US$8.2m work of calligraphy

They say the lines of manuscript purportedly written by poet Su Shi are lifeless and boring

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 December, 2013, 5:09am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 December, 2013, 5:09am

A famous ancient Chinese calligraphy piece which auctioned for US$8.2 million at Sotheby's in New York in September was challenged by experts from the Shanghai Museum.

The museum's three researchers on ancient calligraphy and paintings told the local Xinmin Evening News yesterday that they would soon publish an academic paper questioning the authenticity of Gong Fu Tie by the acclaimed Song Dynasty poet Su Shi, which was bought by a private curator in Shanghai and is slated for exhibition in the city next year.

They say the calligraphy under scrutiny, written about a thousand years ago, was a copy made less than 200 years ago in the late Qing dynasty.

"The writing in the auctioned work consisted mainly of side strokes, the lines are all thin and lifeless, they lack dimension and are boring," the report said, citing one of the researchers, Ling Lizhong . "Such penmanship does not in any way resemble that of Dongpo."

Su also goes by the name Su Dongpo.

The buyer, Liu Yiqian , owner of the Long Museum in Shanghai, told news portal Sina late last night that he had contacted Sotheby's, and the auction house would set up a panel of global experts to examine the calligraphy.

Liu said irrespective of whether the panel backed the Shanghai experts' challenge, he hoped "Sotheby's would defend its own reputation and handle the matter properly."

Sotheby's did not respond to inquiries from the Sunday Morning Post.

Liu said he had consulted experts about the authenticity of the calligraphy before he made his bid, but no doubts were raised. He also said he welcomed the experts' challenge.

In an official posting on the website three months ago, Sotheby's called Gong Fu Tie "a succinct yet remarkable calligraphy masterpiece."

"Throughout its thousand-year history this manuscript has passed through the collections of many prominent artists and scholars ... whose inscription praised the piece to be a 'vivacious, timeless and divine work by Su', likening its charm to the beauty of a goddess."

Gong Fu Tie, a farewell note by Su to a poet friend, has only nine characters. It reads: "Su Shi respectfully bids farewell to Gongfu, Gentleman Court Consultant."

There was intense bidding when the piece went under the hammer on September 19. Six bidders pushed the price way above the pre-sale expectation of US$1 million.