Is Your Wall Decor Really a Chinese Contemporary Masterpiece? It Happened to a London Couple

A "very canny" purchase made decades ago could yield millions next month.

Wu Guanzhong's painting of a water village in the Jiangnan region. Courtesy Duke's Auctioneers, Dorchester.

It’s the dream of every amateur art collector.

Not fully aware of what they owned, a London couple invited an appraiser to their home for a routine evaluation of their collection. That’s when the sharp-eyed expert spotted a pair of valuable works by master Chinese painter Wu Guanzhong hanging on their living room wall. The paintings are now poised to earn more than £1 million at auction next month.

Wu Guanzhong, <i>White Birches on Mount Chang Bai (Zhangbai)</i> (circa 1980s). <br>Courtesy Duke's Auctioneers, Dorchester.

Wu Guanzhong, White Birches on Mount Chang Bai (Zhangbai) (circa 1980s).
Courtesy Duke’s Auctioneers, Dorchester.

The expert, Guy Schwinge, of Duke’s Auctioneers in Dorchester, immediately recognized the paintings as the work of Wu, according to a report in the Dorset Echo. He learned that the owners acquired them for a few thousand pounds when they were living in Hong Kong more than 20 years ago. At the time, the city was still under British rule, and demand for both traditional and contemporary Asian art had not yet soared to the heights it has reached today.

Wu Guanzhong, Zhou Zhuang. Courtesy of Poly Auction.

Wu Guanzhong, Zhou Zhuang. Courtesy of Poly Auction.

According to the artnet Price Database, the record for Wu Guanzhong at auction is $30.4 million, for The Zhou Village (1997), sold at Poly Auction in Hong Kong last April. To date, seven works by the artist have sold for over $10 million and more than 260 works have sold above $1 million each.

One of the couple’s paintings is a hanging scroll titled White Birches on Mount Chang Bai (Zhangbai) (circa 1980s) that bears two seals by the artist. It is estimated to sell for up to £1 million ($1.3 million). The second painting is of a water village in the Jiangnan region and carries an estimate of £300,000 to £500,000 ($385,000 to $641,600).

Schwinge appears to be deliberately placing conservative estimates on the works with the hope of sparking a bidding war. He tells the Dorset Echo that the works could “trounce” their estimates thanks to Wu’s stature in the Chinese art world—not to mention the booming global demand for great Chinese works.

“Wu Guanzhong’s importance to the development of Chinese art in the 20th century cannot be overstated,” he says. The artist “was quite prolific and his works bridge the gap between the past and the present and they perfectly articulate the fusion of Chinese and Western Art.”

Duke's of Dorchester.

Duke’s of Dorchester.

Schwinge called it “a very canny purchase” on the part of the collectors, who were not identified by name. Both paintings will be sold at Duke’s of Dorchester’s Asian Art sale on May 18.

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