CHINA / National

Painting scales a mountain for record price
By Wang Shanshan (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-06-27 05:59

An oil painting which was hidden in a dry well in Singapore for 10 years was auctioned for 33 million yuan (US$4.12 million) in Beijing on Sunday, a record for a Chinese oil painting.

Xu Beihong's oil painting "Silly Old Man Moves a Mountain" [file photo]

The "Silly Old Man Moves a Mountain," or "YuGong YiShan" in Chinese, which was painted by master artist Xu Beihong (1895-1953) in 1939 during his stay in Singapore, was snapped up by an unnamed mainland collector.

The previous record was 28.12 million yuan (US$3.5 million), set when a painting of lotus flowers by Paris-based Chinese artist San Yu was sold at a Christie's auction in Hong Kong in April.

"The Silly Old Man" is based on a millennia-old Chinese fable of an old man who devoted all his life digging away a mountain which blocked his family's access to the outside world. The firm belief that his sons, grandsons and even great-great grandsons would one day clear the mountain finally moved the god, who had the mountain removed.

Chairman Mao Zedong cited the fable in his works to illustrate the importance of perseverance and revolutionary resolve, making Yu Gong, the "Silly Old Man," a household name.

Xu hid the artwork in a dry well at a school in the suburbs of Singapore before he came back to China in 1941, on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack, according to Xu Qingping, president of Xu Beihong Art School of Renmin University in Beijing and son of the master artist.

Ten years later, the school headmaster took the painting out and wrote Xu a letter about returning it, but the artist wrote back and gave it to the headmaster as a gift.

The painting appeared in the art market on the Chinese mainland and Taiwan several times from the 1980s before a Taiwanese collector bought it for 2.5 million yuan (US$312,500) at an online auction on

When the collector consigned it to Beijing Hanhai Art Auction Co Ltd this month, the bottom price was set at 15 million yuan (US$1.87 million). Its hammer price reached 30 million yuan (US$3.75 million), and the final price included a 10 per cent premium.

"The record price can be explained by the rarity of Xu's large-sized artworks in the market and also by his indisputable genuineness as reflected in the piece," said Zhang Yuejin, vice-president of the auction house.

(China Daily 06/27/2006 page1)