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Arts Will This Become The Most Expensive Asian Artwork Ever Sold At Auction?

Will This Become The Most Expensive Asian Artwork Ever Sold At Auction?

"Slave and Lion" (1924) by Xu Beihong. (Image: Christie's)
Xu Beihong's 1924 painting "Slave and Lion" may become the most expensive Asian artwork ever sold at auction. (Photo: Christie's)
By Zabrina Lo
By Zabrina Lo
April 19, 2021
Christie's is selling Xu Beihong's 1924 painting "Slave and Lion" on May 24—it has an estimate of HK$350-450 million (US$45-58 million)

Today (April 19, 2021) Christie’s unveiled the late Chinese painter Xu Beihong’s Slave and Lion (1924), which carries an estimate of HK$350-450 million, the highest estimate ever given to an Asian artwork at auction. 

The painting will be presented in an exclusive single-slot evening sale on May 24. Members of the public can make appointments to see the work from April 24-25 in Beijing, April 28-29 in Shanghai and May 21-24 in Hong Kong. 

A leading figure of Chinese Realism, Xu Beihong (1895-1953) is primarily known for his ink-and-wash paintings of horses and birds, but was also one of the first Chinese artists to create oil paintings.

Xu, who travelled extensively around Western Europe, was a graduate from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he learnt oil painting and drawing.

The story depicted in Slave and Lion comes from ancient Roman mythology and Aesop’s fables, which tell of a slave who was sentenced to be executed by a lion. The lion, which had previously been saved by the slave, who removed a thorn from its paw, recognised the slave and did not attack him.

The fable celebrates compassion and redemption; Xu’s painting presents the wounded but proud and dignified lion as a symbol of the Chinese people’s spirit. The lion is a recurring symbol in Xu’s work—he often used it as an emblem of China.  

Slave and Lion is now regarded as one of the most important oil paintings in Chinese art history.

Slave and Lion was last sold in 2006 by Christie’s Hong Kong for more than HK$53 million, a record at the time for a Chinese oil painting.

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