Only three works by Su Shi are known – one is in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan – and none has ever been offered at auction before.
The polymath and statesman is credited with developing a style of naturalistic painting that had a fundamental influence on the whole of Chinese art.
The ink-on-paper at Christie’s depicts a starkly bare tree standing alongside a rock. It is part of a longer scroll which contains four colophons (commentaries) by calligraphers from the 11th-16th century – rare and valuable in their own right, especially those by Mi Fu, a fellow Song Dynasty artist and contemporary of Su Shi.
In preparation for the sale, Christie’s have released the promotional video below.
Su Shi’s key element measures 10.25 x 19.75in (26 x 50cm), while the whole scroll is a 6ft 1in (1.86m) long when fully extended (excluding the mounting).
It also features no fewer than 41 collector’s seals giving a record of its ownership. It has come to auction from a Japanese family who acquired it from a dealer in 1937.
The scroll is estimated in excess of HK$400m (£40m) at the auction on November 26.
The current auction record for an Asian work of art came for another Song Dynasty calligraphic handscroll that made RMB390m (£39.3m) at Beijing auction house Poly in June 2010. The monumental 38ft (15m) long scroll was by Huang Tingjian (1045-1105), another of the leading poets and calligraphers of the period who was a close friend of Su Shi.