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‘Drunken Princes’ scroll sells for US$41m

A 700 year-old painted scroll from Yuan Dynasty China which features ‘five drunken princes’ has been sold for HK$307 million (US$41.8m/£32m) in Hong Kong.

The six foot long scroll was sold by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for many times its original asking price of US$10-$15.5m, with over 100 bids received on the item.

The successful bidder in the end was the Long Museum in Shanghai and it is the most valuable Chinese ink painting ever sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong, the second most valuable Chinese artwork Sotheby’s has ever sold in the city and the most valuable artwork the auctioneer has sold in Asia this year.

It is one of just 21 paintings made by the artist Ren Renfa in the 14th century and depicts several princes from the earlier Tang Dynasty drunkenly returning home on horseback after a party.

One of the princes in the picture, and the more sober of the five,  is Li Longji who would later become Emperor Xuanzong, the seventh and longest-reigning emperor of the Tang Dynasty.

This particular scroll was smuggled out of the Forbidden City in 1922 by Pu Yi, the last emperor of China when the Qing Dynasty fell. It is covered in the seals of several Chinese emperors who reigned in the centuries following its creation.

Steven  Zuo, head of fine classical Chinese paintings for Sotheby’s Asia, said: “When I first unrolled this highly important and exquisite scroll by Ren Renfa, I knew that bringing this masterpiece to auction was set to be one of the most exciting moments of my career at Sotheby’s.

“Today the market spoke, and the extraordinary price achieved for an artwork that marries impeccable provenance with painterly brilliance, rarity with exceptional condition, is thoroughly deserved. Its rapturous reception at our pre-sale exhibition was a harbinger for the flurry of bids we received today, which elevated it to a final price that stands as the most valuable Chinese ink painting we have ever sold.”

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