The South China Morning Post offers this reminder that Chinese spending on art has often reached dizzying levels. This pocket history is a strong reminder of the persistence of an appetite for art:
art collecting is a Chinese passion as old as China itself. The first documented collection was that of the Emperor Wu of Han, who assembled a staggering ensemble of treasures in his Shanglin garden more than 2,000 years ago. Ming scholars and literati competed for artworks and wrote treatises on the art of collecting “superfluous things”.
As the country got richer during the Qing dynasty, art collecting became a desirable habit for those aspiring to social cachet. The art market boomed and numerous works of exquisite craftsmanship were produced. Contemporary collectors are part of this prestigious lineage of scholars and passionate collectors.
Given these economic and sociological factors, observers of the current art market craze might find it difficult to define what the right price should be for Chinese antiques. If history can teach us anything, it is that top-quality Chinese artworks have always been highly sought after and expensive.
Interestingly, records show that during the Ming dynasty, the highest price paid for any work of art was 1,000 ounces of silver for a painting by Yuan dynasty artist Huang Gongwang (Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, currently in the National Palace Museum’s collections in Taiwan) in a transaction in 1630. As a matter of comparison, at that time, the price of a reasonably large city house was 200 ounces of silver, and a hectare of prime agricultural land was worth between 28 and 40 ounces, which makes this painting a worthy forebear to the record prices witnessed today.