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Sotheby's to offer calligraphy by Su Shi - One of the most well-known figures in Chinese history
Sotheby’s to offer The Gong Fu Tie Calligraphy on 19 September 2013 in New York. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- On 19th September 2013 Sotheby’s will present a once in a generation opportunity to acquire a work by one of the towering figures of early Chinese history when The Gong Fu Tie Calligraphy by the Song Dynasty poet Su Shi (1037-1101) is offered in the Fine Classical Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy auction. Su Shi is known as an author, politician, calligrapher, gastronome, pharmacologist as well as artist. His position in Chinese culture is comparable to that of the European Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci. His writings and teachings have been hugely influential, his poem ‘Ode to the Red Cliffs’ is considered to be one of the most magisterial texts in Chinese literature. The appearance of a piece by Su Shi at auction is a practically unheard of event; of the approximately 50 known pieces by the artist, almost all are in private hands. The current lot is estimated to fetch in excess of $300,000.

Su Shi
Su Shi, who is also sometimes known as Dongpo, was born in Sichuan province to a family of preeminent literatis. As a young prodigy he came to the attention of Emperor Renzong (1010-1063), and achieved celebrity status when he provided perfect responses in ancient prose for his civil service exams. For the next twenty years he held a variety of government posts, and was particularly known for his economic policies and construction of many public projects, including the “Su’di”, the pedestrian causeway cross the West Lake that’s been romanticized by poets and painters for centuries.

However, political changes meant he fell out of favour from time to time and was banished repeatedly for his open criticism of the dominant “New Policy Group”. During his long exiles to the lush and remote Hubei province and Hainan Island Su Shi committed to Buddhist meditation and produced some of the most wellknown poems and calligraphy ever published in the Chinese language. While living on a farm, he adopted his literati name, “Dong’po”, meaning “eastern slope”.

His popularity surged after his death in 1101 as he became the revered and mythical namesake for numerous landmarks and the subject of countless paintings and poems. Manuscripts by Su Shi are among the most sought-after objects in Chinese history.

The Gongfu Calligraphy
Although just nine characters long The Gong Fu Tie Calligraphy has resonated with scholars for centuries who have recognized its technical sophistication as well as the Su Shi’s humanism it so beautifully embodies. The piece has been recorded in many of the most authoritative books on Chinese art and been lavished with praise, with the well-known author Weng Fanggang describing it as ‘a divine piece of calligraphy.’ This work was completed mid-way through the artists career in his mature period and is a goodbye letter to Su Shi’s fellow artist Guo Gufu (1035-1113) a close friend despite differing political views.

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