Signed and dated February of the ‘yi si year’ (1968), the title slip of this 6ft 3in x 3ft 4in (1.91 x 1.01m) scroll painting is further signed by Zeng Ke Duan (1900-76), the famous calligrapher and professor at the University of Hong Kong. He was Zhang Da Qian's closest friend and partner and was often asked to inscribe important works from his oeuvre.
Originally known as a guohua (traditionalist) painter, by the 1960s Zeng Ke Duan was also renowned as an impressionist and expressionist. In this painting, Da Qian used his famous splash ink and colour technique to create a spectacular spring landscape. From an English private collection, it was given by the artist to the owner's father over afternoon tea sometime between c.1970-80.
China’s highest-grossing artists
The auctioneer’s £100,000-150,000 estimate was a self-consciously conservative number for a large work by one of China’s highest-grossing artists. Manchurian Mountains, a painting of similar size from 1969 hammer for HK$141m (£14m) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April while in 2016 the same rooms sold a monumental 1982 hanging scroll titled Peach Blossom Spring for a record HK$240m (£24m) to Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei, founders of the Long Museum in Shanghai.
The Grand View of Chao Mountain attracted seven phone lines – one of which manned by specialist Freya Yuan-Richards jumped straight in at £500,000. The same bidder competed against up to three parties in the saleroom before finally conceding defeat at £2.3m. The winning bidder in the room, who will pay £2.61m after fees, was a dealer from mainland China.
Post-war Chinese paintings
This is the second major post-war Chinese painting the auctioneers have handled in as many sales. The Northern Girl, a portrait by Chinese contemporary artist Yang Fei Yun (b.1954) of his wife signed and dated September 1987, Yang Fei Yun hua Peng Peng sold in November for £1.7m on behalf of the family of Body Shop founder Dame Anita Roddick (1942-2007).
The seven-figure barrier has now been passed 11 times at the Salisbury Salerooms since the £2.6m sale of a Yuan double gourd vase in July 2005. The £2.3m for the Zhang Da Qian is the auctioneer’s fourth highest price and the highest since a Qianlong jade carving of a recumbent deer and young from the Critchel House collection took £3.2m in 2010.