Telling Tales: rare handscroll by Xu Naigu offered in Fine Chinese Paintings auction


Xu Naigu handscroll

Handscroll, 33ft (10m), Xu Naigu. Estimate: £15,000 - £20,000.

Ahead of the Fine Chinese Paintings auction on 13 November, we take a closer look at a rare 98ft (30m) handscroll by internationally recognised Chinese artist, Xu Naigu, offered in the sale.

The work, dubbed an early version of the ‘Facebook wall conversation’, has more than 98 ‘posts’ or calligraphic inscriptions spanning 127 years by renowned historical figures.

Contributors include the Chinese scholar, Weng Tonghe (1830 – 1904), who was appointed as tutor to two consecutive Emperors, and the Chinese journalist and member of the Chinese Nationalist Party, Dai Jitao, whose speculated love child was adopted by President Chiag Kai-shek (1887 – 1975).

Xu naigu handscroll

The handscroll would have been displayed at literati gatherings where connoisseurs gathered for esoteric artistic and philosophical debates with honoured guests invited to contribute. Begun in 1821, the scroll unusually has no inscriptions between 1828 and 1898 until it was ‘rediscovered’ by loyalists to the waning Qing dynasty.

The inscriptions which date from the late 19th century to the early 20th century demonstrate their grief at the collapse of over 2,000 years of Imperial China.

'The painting is a work of art but also an important and poignant historical document.’ - Head of Asian Art, Lazarus Halstead.

The painting has remarkable provenance which can be traced back to when it was first created.  Past owners include the artist’s nephew, Xu Gengshen (1825 – 1893) whilst the present owner received the painting as a wedding gift from her father in 1974 in Hong Kong.

Xu naigu handscroll

The work exemplifies the social relationships that existed between collectors and connoisseurs across many generations. The important standing of many of the contributors is testament to the reputation of  Xu Naigu and the various owners of the painting thereafter.

The November sale also includes works by 20th Century masters Qi Baishi, Pu Ru and the female artist Fang Zhaoling, as well as classical works attributed to Wang Jian and Ba Da Shan Ren.

The full sale will be on view in Chiswick during Asian Art in London, taking place 2 November – 12 November 2017. For more information, visit the official website. 

Fine Chinese Paintings Department Page