Salvator Mundi it wasn’t.
On Monday, Christie’s auctioned a 1,000-year-old scroll painting by Su Shi, Wood and Rock (circa 1071–1101), which it had been calling “possibly the world’s rarest and most valuable Chinese painting.” The house expected it would break the record for a Chinese painting sold at auction, which was set in 2010 when Huang Tingjian’s Dizhuming sold for 436.8 million yuan ($64 million), and anticipated a frenzy of bidding for the Song dynasty masterpiece that would be comparable to the back-and-forth war that propelled Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (circa 1500) to the record-breaking price of $450 million. Su Shi is often dubbed the “Chinese da Vinci” for his aesthetic innovations and reputation a Renaissance man on a par with Leonardo.
But when Wood and Rock came to auction, it attracted just three bids, and sold to the anonymous buyer on the phone with Christie’s Asia president Rebecca Wei. The hammer price was $HK 410 million, or $HK 463.6 million with fees, which comes to $US 59.2 million. The painting missed the record for a Chinese painting by $HK 30 million; it was enough, however, to make it the most expensive artwork ever sold by Christie’s in Asia.
In a report for the South China Morning Post, Enid Tsui noted that “the Asian art market appears to have cooled substantially in recent weeks because of economic and political uncertainties.” The Asian 20th century and contemporary art evening sale at Christie’s Saturday grossed $HK 424.3 million ($US 54.3 million), whereas a comparable sale at Sotheby’s in September grossed $HK 1.56 billion ($US 200 million), led by Zao Wou-Ki’s Juin-Octobre 1985 (1985).