The Chinese art market shows no signs of abating. At the end of last month, an ink wash painting by Qi Baishi sold for 425.5 million yuan ($65 million) at the Garden Spring Auction in Beijing. The work, Eagle Standing on Pine Tree with Four-character Couplet in Seal Script, was completed by Qi in 1946 and presented to General Chiang Kai-shek for his 60th birthday.
In the history of Chinese mainland art, the final price was second only to ancient calligrapher Huang Tingjian‘s hand scroll “Pillar Ming,” which was sold for 436.8 million yuan in 2009. Huang had a pricing advantage associated with age and rarity. Qi’s ink wash was by far the most expensive modern Chinese work.
In 2010, ART PRICE released its data of auction sales by artists. The top artists were familiar to most Western eyes. Picasso and Warhol top the list almost every year. But a new artist appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Qi Baishi was ranked third in sales behind the previous two. When the ART PRICE lists are again compiled from over 6000 auction houses from around the world, I expect to see Qi second only to Picasso.