Qi Baishi Painting Sells For 7.8 Million Yuan (US$1.2 Million), Seven Times Estimate
This week, the domestic Chinese auction house China Guardian held its first auction of the year, selling a grand total of 640 million yuan (US$98 million) worth of traditional Chinese paintings, calligraphy, antiques, rare books and porcelain to Beijing’s art-hungry collectors. And hungry they were, with the auction achieving a 90 percent sell-through rate. Broken down by category, painting and calligraphy grossed 494 million yuan ($75 million), porcelain, furniture and crafts surpassed the 100 million yuan mark for the first time, grossing 110 million yuan ($17 million), rare zisha teapots grossed 12 million yuan ($1.8 million), antique bottles of Maotai baijiu pulled in 11 million yuan ($1.7 million), and rare books grossed 828,000 yuan ($126,184).
Despite good showings all around, the painting and calligraphy segment — which broke its previous record — stands out, as several high profile works saw pitched bidding by local collectors. “Tie Guai Yi” (铁拐李) by Qi Baishi (齐白石, 1864-1957), whose works ranked second only to Picasso in sales last year, sold for 7.8 million yuan (US$1.2 million), seven times its pre-sale estimate. An antique calligraphic work by Wang Duo (王铎, 1592-1652) also excited bidders, eventually selling for 7.4 million yuan ($1.1 million). Contemporary calligraphy proved popular as well, with one work by Feng Dazhong (冯大中, b. 1949) selling for 5.2 million yuan ($762,000).
Though new Chinese collectors continue to focus heavily on painting — a trend that we’ll certainly see in action at the Sotheby’s spring auctions in Hong Kong next week — the market for rare baijiu (traditional Chinese spirits) also continues to heat up. Among the lots sold this week at China Guardian was a bottle of 1956 Maotai that set collectors ablaze, finally going for a whopping 1.8 million yuan ($274,000), beating the record-breaking 1958 bottle that sold for 1.45 million yuan ($220,000) last December.
With results like these, particularly for artists like Qi Baishi who have quietly become nearly as valuable as Western juggernauts like Picasso and Warhol, it’s no wonder China is now reportedly the world’s largest art market.