An oil painting bought by Swiss collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten from a Beijing gallery in 2002 was put on sale at Hong Kong’s Sotheby’s to mark the auction house’s 40th anniversary of operations in Asia.
The almost 13 feet wide painting by Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi, titled “The Last Supper”, is a replica of the great Leonardo de Vinci’s famous “The Last Supper”, which depicts the last meal between Jesus and the 12 disciples when Jesus foretold his betrayal by Judas, but Zeng did it with a twist.
Instead of religious figures, what is seen are young Chinese communists with red neckties except for one, who took the place of Judas, who is wearing a western-style yellow tie, which according to Evelyn Lin, Sotheby’s head of contemporary Asian art, symbolizes China’s move toward capitalism.
The bidding that started at $9 million is said to have lasted over 10 minutes between two buyers on the phone and the crowd of 600 people in a packed room at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre applauded several times as the prices slowly escalated up to the final result.
At the end, Zeng’s painting was sold to the winning bidder, who remained unidentified, for US$23.3 million thereby setting a new record price for a work by an Asian contemporary artist.
The Chinese version of “The Last Supper” broke the previous Asian contemporary record set by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s “My Lonesome Cowboy.” That work, a sculpture, sold for US$15.1 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2008.
“The Last Supper” was one of 61 modern and contemporary Asian works of art on offer at the auction house that evening and it was reported that in all, 55 of the 61 paintings and sculptures were sold for a total value of HK$1.13 billion (US$145.2 million).