A painting by Xu Beihong could reach new highs at auction in Asia

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'Slave and Lion' by Xu Beihong (1924) could fetch up to $58 million at Christie's.

The Asian art market is growing steadily, and it doesn't look set to stop anytime soon. Christie's will soon be auctioning "Slave and Lion" by Xu Beihong, in a dedicated sale. The rare painting by the Chinese painter is estimated at between 45 million and 58 million dollars.

According to Christie's, this is the first time a Western auction house has estimated an Asian painting on canvas for such amounts. "Slave and Lion" will have to surpass its high estimate if it hopes to set a new record for sales on the Asian continent. In so doing, it would follow in the footsteps of "Juin-Octobre 1985," Zao Wou-Ki's largest painting, which sold for $65 million at Sotheby's in 2018.

According to the François Pinault-owned auction house, "Slave and Lion" has all the qualities needed to set Hong Kong auctions ablaze. Xu Beihong's thematic oil paintings are extremely rare on the market, and this one has the distinction of being the largest still in private hands. "Slave and Lion" is inspired by the Roman myth of Androcles, a Christian who was handed over to the beasts in the Circus Maximus of Rome and is lucky enough to come across the lion he once saved. It was painted at the height of Xu Beihong's career and is now widely regarded as one of the most important oil paintings in Chinese art history.

"An extremely rare work"

This explains why "Slave and Lion" sold for 53.9 million Hong Kong dollars ($6.9 million) at Christie's in 2006, a record for a Chinese oil painting at the time. "We are privileged to be offering this exceedingly rare work which holds great cultural significance. The sale of this museum-quality masterpiece marks a monumental moment in auction history," outlines Francis Belin, President, Christie's Asia-Pacific.

"Slave and Lion" will go under the hammer immediately after Christie's 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale, to be held on May 24 in Hong Kong. Its appearance at auction is a testament to the healthy state of the art market in Asia, and particularly in China. While the United States maintained its leadership position last year, it is now being overtaken by China and the United Kingdom according to a recent report by Art Basel and UBS. Further evidence of the Asian market's rise is that Jean-Michel Basquiat's " Warrior " sold for $41.8 million in March at Christie's Hong Kong. This sale set a new record for a Western artist in Asia.

Caroline Drzewinski