Detail of the Imperial Embroidered Silk Thangka Yongle Six-Character Presentation Mark and of the period(1402–1424). Image courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd
HONG KONG – A highly important imperial embroidered silk Thangka has achieved a world auction record for any Chinese works of art sold by an international auction house. After an intense bidding competition that lasted for 22 minutes, the famous 15th century Thangka Yongle Six-Character Presentation Mark and of the period (1402–1424) was sold for a record HK$348,400,000 (US$45million) at Christie’s auction. Created more than five centuries ago during the Ming dynasty on the command of Emperor Yongle, the magnificent embroidered Tibetan tapestry was too important to miss, and collectors went after it with all their might.
It was drama in the packed saleroom as bidders on the phone and in the room competed to win this celebrated art piece for their art collection. The excellently preserved work created more than five century ago carried its glow: brightly colored gold and silk threads were reminders of the skills and dexterity of the creative minds behind this amazing work. But aesthetics was not the only thing the piece had going for it: It also portrays a narrative of great human interest. According to Christie’s, the Thangka depicts the story of Raktayamari, ‘The Red Conqueror of Death’, embracing his consort, Vajravetali. More than three meters tall and two meters wide, the Thangka is the only one of its kind still in private hands – two other known examples are in the Jokhang Monastery in Tibet.
In the face of an intense bidding war, there were cheers and applause as collectors tried to out maneuver one another. As the action drew to a conclusion, there were just two bidders left standing in the quest to own this cherished artwork: Jinqing Cai, President of Christie’s China, who spoke in Mandarin competed with François Curiel, Chairman of Christie’s Asia Pacific, who spoke in English. It was an art auction made for prime time television. When the hammer finally came down, a record auction price had been achieved for any Chinese works of art sold by an international auction house.
But the drama did not end with the sale of the work. As collectors left the art auction venue, only one question remained unanswered: ” Who bought the imperial embroidered silk Thangka?” They did not have to wait too long for an answer. The buyer of the Thangka, it was revealed later, was Mr. Liu Yiqian, the well-known Chinese billionaire and art collector, who purchased it for his recently opened Long Museum in Shanghai. Mr. Yiqian who has a large appetite for art could not hide his excitement for out bidding other collectors and the fact that he is able to bring the highly important imperial embroidered silk Thangka back to China. “I am proud to bring back to China this significant and historic century Thangka which will be preserved in the Long museum for years to 15th come,” he said in phone conversation. This is not the first time Mr. Yiqian has made an important art purchase. Early this year, he bought the legendary Ming Chenghua Chicken Cup for a record auction price of $36 million from Sotheby’s Hong Kong.