A rare 18th-century scroll has become one of the most expensive Chinese artworks ever to sell at auction.
The 61-foot-long artwork fetched 414 million yuan (almost $65 million) when it went under the hammer in Beijing on Sunday.
The handscroll is the work of Xu Yang, who was recruited as a court painter by the Qianlong Emperor in the 1750s. It depicts scenes in Beijing during the aftermath of military campaigns to consolidate the emperor’s power in China’s west – conflicts that would later form part of his so-called “Ten Great Campaigns.”
Although often titled “Settling Down the Western Regions and Presenting Prisoners,” the work was simply given the English name “Figure” by Poly Auction, the Beijing-based auction house behind the sale.
The detailed handscroll begins at Beijing’s Zhengyang Gate and passes through Tiananmen Square, with the city’s residents pictured alongside lines of guards and flag-bearers. The scene ends at the entrance to the Forbidden City where the artwork was once mounted, according to Poly Auction.
The artwork was commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor to mark his success quelling various uprisings, including his destruction of the Dzungar Khanate, a nomadic empire that once covered parts of Central Asia and the present-day Chinese region of Xinjiang.
The handscroll had previously broken the auction record for classical Chinese art when it fetched 134 million yuan ($21 million) in 2009, according to state media. It is now the third most expensive classical Chinese work ever to go under the hammer, a Poly Auction spokesperson confirmed, with the current record held by Wu Bin’s “Ten Views of a Lingbi Rock,” which sold for 512.9 million yuan ($80 million) last year.
Hailing from Suzhou, a city just west of Shanghai, Xu was known for depicting key moments in imperial history as well as urban life in China, though his sense of perspective and figuration were influenced by European art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection contains some of the 12 handscrolls Xu produced to mark one of the Qianlong Emperor’s famous tours of southern China.