Auction house Christie’s yesterday unveiled what it called “the highest-estimated Asian artwork” to ever go under the hammer, a Xu Beihong (徐悲鴻) painting titled Slave and Lion, which it expects to fetch between US$45 million and US$58 million.
The painting dated 1924 by Xu, who is regarded as one of the most important figures of Chinese realism, is to go on public preview in Beijing and Shanghai this month before being auctioned in Hong Kong on May 24.
The painting was sold in 2006 in the territory at Christie’s for HK$53.9 million (US$6.9 million), a record at the time for a Chinese oil painting.
“The market at the very top is very strong; [there is] a lot of demand, extremely driven by rarity, which is exactly what this work is about,” Christie’s Asia-Pacific president Francis Belin said.
The story behind the painting is rooted in Roman mythology, according to Christie’s presentation.
A runaway slave was captured and, as punishment, thrown into the Colosseum with a lion, but the animal did not attack the slave, who had earlier removed a thorn stuck in the lion’s paw.
The slave and lion were eventually set free.
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