BEIJING, April 9 -- A masterpiece by prominent Chinese artist Xu Beihong was auctioned on Saturday at a record 72 million Hong Kong dollars (about 9.2 million U.S. dollars) for a Chinese oil painting.
"This afternoon we set a new record for any Chinese painting at auction, trumping the previous record, also by the artist and by a huge amount," said Evelyn Lin, head of Contemporary Chinese Art Department of Sotheby's.
Sotheby's had said the 1939 painting of an anti-Japanese street play, "Put Down Your Whip," was expected to fetch at least 30 million Hong Kong dollars (3.8 million dollars).
The painting was bought by an anonymous collector over the telephone after competition from at least four other bidders. "This painting is of historic value because this is Xu's only painting with the theme of anti-Japanese aggression," said Lin.
Drawn in 1939, the painting, 144 cm high and 90 cm wide, was completed during Xu's stay in Singapore at the highest peak of his artistic power.
Inspired by an anti-Japanese street drama of the same title staged by Xu's actress friend, Wang Ying, during his stay, the painting depicts Lady Shang before a crow and captures the spirit of the Chinese people against the backdrop of the Anti-Japanese War.
Deeply moved by the patriotic motive of the drama, Xu blended this sentiment with meticulous brushstrokes and delicately portrayed the female protagonist in the foreground while realistically and vividly rendering the audience at the background.
Having disappeared from public view for the last half century, its exhibition at Sotheby's marked the first time the masterpiece was on public view since 1954, a year after Xu died.
Xu's work is the highlight of the auction house's Contemporary Chinese Art sale, offering 180 lots of Chinese art pieces.
The last record that Xu set was in November 2006 when his work "Slave and Lion" was sold at Christie's for 53.88 million Hong Kong dollars (6.9 million dollars).