Chinese calligraphy letter sets new auction record

An 11th Century letter has set a new record price for a work of Chinese calligraphy, fetching 207m yuan ($32m; £22m) at an auction in Beijing.

The letter is the last surviving work of Chinese scholar Zeng Gong 曾鞏, who penned it around 936 years ago.  He was one of the supporters of the New Classical Prose Movement (新古文運動) and is regarded by later scholars as one of theEight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song Dynastie  (唐宋八大家). Zeng Gong produced some four hundred poems in his lifetime and a number of essays. His style of prose writing is mostly discursive rather than argumentative. In terms of political philosophy, Zeng was a firm follower of Ouyang Xiu. For this reason his reputation as leader of one of the eight great schools of philosophy has largely been overshadowed by that of his mentor.

It was bought by film mogul Wang Zhongjun at the China Guardian auction house on Sunday evening.

Zeng is considered one of the greatest prose writers of the Song Dynasty era (960 to 1279 AD). In the letter, written in the later years of his life, Zeng tells a friend about his recent political difficulties and a feeling of isolation. “In this letter he pours his heart out,” Yi Guanghua, a specialist at China Guardian, explained prior to the sale.

According to China Daily, the letter has almost doubled in value since it was last auctioned in 2009, when it fetched 108m yuan. It was a record breaker then, too, becoming the first piece of Chinese calligraphy to be sold for more than 100m yuan.

The price is unlikely to have fazed its new owner, though. Mr Wang is known for spending big on art, having shelled out $61.8m on the Van Gogh painting Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies when it was sold in New York in 2014.