For at least one connoisseur of traditional Chinese art, the recent slump in the Chinese economy has had little or no consequence. At a recent Beijing Poly International Auction, an anonymous mainland buyer shelled out 230 million yuan (US$35 million) for a coloured ink painting created by Fu Baoshi (1904-1965). Owned by the artist’s family for generations, the three-metre long painting far exceeded its reserve price of 180 million yuan. In the end, it was on a par with the record price paid for one of Fu’s works back in 2011. On that occasion, an album of eight paintings inspired by the poems of Mao Zedong went for exactly the same figure.

This latest work to go under the hammer depicts a scene from the work of Qu Yuan, a legendary poet who lived during the warring states period (475-221 B.C.). The scene shows the Great Lord of Fate, who decides a person’s lifespan, and the God of Cloud, the deity responsible for wind, rain, and thunder and lightning. The latter celestial being is considered by most scholars to be a man, although historian Guo Moruo suggested it should be a woman.

The artist went with Guo’s interpretation and portrayed the God of Cloud with a distinctly feminine appearance. This also allowed Fu to portray the two divine beings as possible lovers, giving the artwork that sense of romanticism that is so characteristic of many of his other works that often feature classical figures, a number of which have been lost to posterity.

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