The Top Drawings for 2014



Fridays are the best! Every other Friday, ArtPrice offers you a themed auction ranking. This week, ArtPrice discusses the 10 most expensive drawings in 2014. In the lineup: nine Chinese bids out of the 10!

The Top Drawings for 2014
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 CUI Ruzhuo $20,623,999 Landscape in Snow (2006) 2014-04-07 Poly Auction Ltd HONG KONG
2 QIAN LONG Emperor $16,483,200 Calligraphy (1773) 2014-12-02 Poly International Auction Co.,Ltd BEIJING
3 Pablo PICASSO $15,003,360 Composition (Composition au minotaure) (1936) 2014-02-05 Sotheby’s LONDON
4 CUI Ruzhuo $14,168,000 Landscape series 2014-10-05 Poly Auction Ltd HONG KONG
5 YANG Yan $10,784,400 Landscape (2014) 2014-12-16 Beijing Jiuge International Auctions Co., Ltd BEIJING
6 HUANG Binhong $8,839,900 Landscape (1955) 2014-05-18 China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd. BEIJING
7 QI Baishi $7,861,850 Flowers and birds of four pieces (1947) 2014-06-02 Poly International Auction Co.,Ltd BEIJING
8 HONG Ren $7,542,300 Landscape (1659) 2014-05-17 China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd. BEIJING
9 ZHANG Daqian $7,476,199 “La Beauté Antique” (1953) 2014-10-07 Sotheby’s HONG KONG
10 LI Keran $7,294,500 Landscape (1985) 2014-06-05 Beijing Tranthy International Auction Co BEIJING
copyright © 2014


Nine of the 10 most expensive artists today are Chinese, with their work being sold exclusively or almost exclusively in continental China and Hong Kong. China’s rise in power in the art market is restoring drawing and calligraphy to their former glory, high-calibre arts from the Chinese tradition.

Ranked first, Cui Ruzhuo is one of the major favourites in the Chinese contemporary scene. Born in Beijing in 1944, Cui studied painting under Li Kuchan, then worked at the Beijing Academy of Art and Design, before heading to the United States in 1981. He returned to China in 1996, to teach students at the China National Academy of Fine Arts. The artist is an erudite, passionate about Chinese culture and an avid collector (nearly 400 Chinese works). Known by all ink drawing connoisseurs, Cui Ruzhuo is ambitious. He feels that the Chinese economic boom is a powerful springboard for international diffusion of Chinese art, little-known and undervalued. Now, international diffusion of Chinese culture is happening via Hong Kong, as the artist knows well. He spends time there, and it’s there, in Hong Kong where the essential part of his market is located (55% of turnover in auction rooms). The huge auction houses established in Hong Kong – Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Poly Auction – are today the only ones to sell his works for several million dollars. Since his first million-dollar bid in 2011, the gavel has sounded 13 times for a price over a million, including four times in 2014. Thus, the new record for Cui is USD 20.6m, for a 36 meter-long scroll of ink drawings (USD 23.7m including fees, Poly Auction Hong Kong, 7 April 2014)…making Cui a more popular artist than Pablo Picasso for drawing! Indeed, a Composition au minotaure of Picasso (a watercolour from 1936) presented in London last year set the auction record for a Picasso drawing (5 February 2014 at Sotheby’s). This work, 50 centimetres high and 65 centimetres long, quadrupled Sotheby’s estimate, arriving at USD 15m, breaking an old record from 1989 (with Famille de l’Arlequin (Harlequin Family), 1905, USD 12.8m, Christie’s New York).

Cui Ruzhuo is currently achieving his most ambitious project, a project that embodies the larger ambition of the Chinese market today: to quickly see the price of his works surpass those of the great Western masters like Picasso and Van Gogh. This is his Chinese Dream, he confides.

A few years after the explosion of Political Pop Art and avant-garde artists, the Chinese market recenters the focus around its more traditional history, as a testimony this ranking which includes no oil on canvas works nor sculptures, but only ink works. Among them, we note the magnificent strike of the gavel at more than USD 16m for the silk calligraphies of Emperor Qian Long (fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty). The emperor was also a poet, master of calligraphy, and an art and book collector. Another standout is the spectacular bid for Yang Yan (born in 1958), for whom a superior bid was made. His first million-dollar auction sale culminates straightaway at USD 10.7m, for a collection of 18 ink drawings sold at the end of 2014 (Beijing Jiuge International Auctions). Also noteworthy is the new record for Hong Ren (1610-1663), who pulled in nearly USD 5m during his previous peak. Collectors made the price soar for a landscape montage more than two metres high, created in 1659. Also a new record for an ink landscape created three centuries later by Huang Binhong (1865-1955), once again a landscape, with the estimate quadrupled to end up at USD 8.8m. Barring a new exploit in 2014, Li Keran (1907-1989) remains one of the most expensive artists in the world. His prize list now boasts 100 auction sales in the millions, including a record of USD 40.3m for Moutains in red (3 June 2012, Poly International, Beijing).

Still to come in this ranking are Qi Baishi (1864-1957) and Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). They invariably carry off the best auctions of the year for drawings. These two modern masters are also among the 10 top-performing artists in the world at auction for the past four years. Although ranked among the best results, both artists post performances markedly lower than those seen from 2010– 2013. They each reached their highest record in 2011: USD 21.8m for Zhang Daqian (Lotus and Mandarin Ducks, Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 31 May) and USD 57.2m for Qi Baishi (Eagle Standing on Pine Tree; Four-Character Couplet in Seal Script, China Guardian, Beijing, 22 May). Having already reached the summit, they leave a little room for their compatriots who are starting to take off.

The strength of the Chinese market reveals itself best through drawings. It’s the auction market recognition which is largely responsible for enabling China to propel itself to first place in the worldwide market in terms of turnover, ahead of the United States.