How Singapore artwork notched $4.4m

How Singapore artwork notched $4.4m

SINGAPORE - He is a scholar artist whose deep knowledge of Chinese philosophy and culture has enabled him to break into the closed circles of China's moneyed collectors.

This is how Singapore's Tan Swie Hian notched a 20.7 million yuan (S$4.4 million) sale at an auction in Beijing on Sunday night, for his portrait of a renowned monk painter of the early Qing dynasty, say art industry figures who are familiar with his work.

The hammer price paid for the ink-on-rice-paper work, Portrait Of Bada Shanren (2013), at the Poly Auction broke the artist's previous record for the most expensive work sold at an auction by a living Singapore or South-east Asian artist.

In 2012, his oil painting When The Moon Is Orbed (2012) sold at the same auction for $3.7 million. It is not known who the buyers of both of Tan's works are.

The 71-year-old artist, a Cultural Medallion recipient as well as a published Chinese-language poet and novelist, tells Life! he created the portrait of Bada Shanren (1626-1705) in a 60-second flash while in Beijing last September.

He says that when he was at an entrepreneur friend's studio one night, this "genius of Chinese art who is regarded as one of the most influential personalities and ink painters of his time just came to me". In that one minute, Tan also produced the calligraphic inscription surrounding the portrait.

Singaporean Ch'ng Poh Tiong, 59, a lawyer, wine writer and art collector, was present at both the 2012 and Sunday auction.

Mr Ch'ng says the bidding for Portrait Of Bada Shanren was "fast and furious", opening with a telephone bid. While he does not know who the work was eventually sold to, he says there were several intense moments in the room before the gavel signalled the sale at 20.7 million yuan.

Mr Ch'ng, who has a postgraduate certificate in Chinese Art from London's School of Oriental & African Studies, says: "Chinese art connoisseurs see Swie Hian as an artist in the great tradition of the ancient scholar literati, contemplative men who are steeped in philosophy and incredibly talented not just in painting but also calligraphy and poetry."

Chinese collectors have pushed the stock of art by their own countrymen globally and are generally known to support and buy mostly their own artists - both at home as well as international auctions.

For example, in April, contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang's politically charged masterpiece Bloodline: Big Family No. 3 (1995) sold for US$12.1 million (S$15.8 million) at Sotheby's in Hong Kong, setting a record price for the artist's work.

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