Auctioneer Henry Howard-Sneyd presides over the rostrum at the Fine Classical Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy sale.
NEW YORK - It seemed as if the stars aligned for the highly anticipated sale of Gongfu Tie by Su Shi at our Fine Classical Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy sale last week. The consignor’s lucky number is 7, and the hammer price of 7.2 million marks a new record for a classical Chinese calligraphy or painting sold in New York. During the final breathless moments before the hammer went down, a formidable forest of hands holding iPhones emerged to capture the unprecedented digits on the currency board (our auctioneer, Henry Howard-Sneyd, admitted to attempting to hold still his pose). It’s also been jokingly pointed out that the Chinese name for Sotheby’s, Su fu bi, begins with the same character as “Su Shi,” and this magisterial work was perhaps always destined to be sold with another member of the Su clan. The auction was serendipitously scheduled on the Mid-Autumn Festival, a day to reunite with one’s family and express gratitude for the fall harvest. A bright, full moon overlooked our celebratory dinner that night through cloudless, lofty skies.
The auction was a tremendous success. The results more than doubled our pre-sale high estimate, and everyone was heartened by the growth in this market we’ve seen since the department’s inception in the fall of 2011. During the exhibition we caught up with familiar faces, and welcomed many, many passionate new collectors who have travelled halfway around the world with suitcases full of their own research. The conversations were intelligent, engaging and rigorous. A sharp increase in interest in calligraphy and serious works of scholarly and historical appeal is clear – two rare sets of diaries by the late Qing poet He Shaoji and works by famed late Qing generals and activists Lin Zexu, Li Hongzhang and Kang Youwei, all went for over four times the high estimate, and Bada Shanren’s ethereal Studio of Autumn Mountain sold for 2.4 million. The sale carried on well past 6 PM, but we are already excited for the spring season.