Auction houses across Asia have enjoyed major triumphs in Chinese classical sales so far this month, and last night proved especially memorable, as Poly Auction — the largest auction house in mainland China — reset the record for an individual ancient Chinese work at auction, selling a 15-meter-long calligraphic hand-scroll by Song Dynasty master Huang Tingjian for RMB 436,800,000 ($63.8 million) in a packed auction room.
The longest extant calligraphic hand scroll by Huang Tingjian, the work boasts an unparalleled history and provenance. Completed in 1095, it was extended from the original length of 8.24 meters to 15 meters over a span of 800 years as owners that included prominent ancient Chinese literati and royal court officials added additional inscriptions to the piece. The hand-scroll is also believed to hold significant value for the study of Chinese history and literature as it bears an eloquent essay delivering a cautionary message to young scholars and politicians on the legacy of morality and justice exemplified by the legendary Tang Dynasty statesman Wei Zheng.
Starting at RMB 80,000,000 ($11.7 million), the bidding price quickly jumped to RMB 200,000,000 ($29.3 million), climbing by increments of RMB 5,000,000 ($730,000). Soon a vicious duel developed between a collector in the auction room and an anonymous telephone bidder. The latter eventually won the lot but only after 70 bids had been logged over the course of the fierce 30-minute battle.
The evening sale of ancient Chinese works totaled RMB 2,560,000,000 ($375 million). At the moment, all eyes are on the remaining auctions at Poly, which continue through June 5 and offer the house a chance to outshine its rival Christie’s Hong Kong and celebrate its fifth anniversary in high style.