Xu Beihong (1895 – 1953) was born in Jiangsu Province at the end of the 19th Century – a time when revolutionary western social and political ideas were starting to take hold in China. It is perhaps not surprising that, having grown up in such an ever-changing political climate, that Xu Beihong’s artistic work was equally as revolutionary in both its scale and content, adopting western artistic practices while at the same time not abandoning his Chinese roots.
He learned the art of calligraphy from a young age, and by the age of 9 was already immersed in the study of traditional Chinese painting. Following a period of study in Shanghai, in 1917 he visited Tokyo, once again to study art. Following this trip abroad and a brief spell teaching art in Beijing, he further broadened his artistic horizons in 1919 with a study trip to Paris, where he studied the western principles of drawing and oil painting. He developed a unique and ground-breaking style, blending western techniques acquired abroad with the traditional Chinese arts he had learnt from a young age. He returned to China in 1927, teaching at a variety of institutions around the country until 1929.
This year the People’s Bank of China has issued its latest coin set featuring the works of this renowned master painter. To commemorate the 120th anniversary of his birth, a four-coin set was issued on March 12th 2015, comprising two gold and two silver coins. All legal tender in the PRC, the four coins feature some of Xu Beihong’s finest works on their reverse faces, along with a rendering of his calligraphic signature, and the coin’s face value. The 5 oz rectangular gold coin has a mintage of just 1000, and features Six Horses, a maple leaf border motif, and 2000 yuan.
Six Horses 六骏
With a mintage of 10,000, the ¼ oz round gold coin displays a vivid colourised rendering of Red Autumn Leaves and Magpies and the face value, 100 yuan.
Red Autumn Leaves and Magpies 红叶喜鹊
The 5 oz rectangular colourised silver coin features The Old Man Moves Mountains and the denomination, 50 yuan. It has a mintage of 3000.
The Old Man Moves Mountains 愚公移山
And finally, the 1 oz silver coin displays a rendering of Harmony of Two Immortals, and the face value, 10 yuan. Its mintage is 20,000.
Harmony of Two Immortals和合二仙
There has been a lot of hype in the run-up to the release of this series, not only in the numismatic community, but with many art enthusiasts also showing an interest. With such a high level of interest and with the set being dubbed “pocket-sized” because of its relatively small mintage, initial prices were rather high.
For example, the 5 oz rectangular piece has a mintage of just 1000 – the smallest mintage for a coin of this specification in recent years; and the 1 oz silver piece has a mintage of 20,000 – again one of the smallest mintages seen for a silver coin of this specification.
During the period when many of the physical coins themselves had yet to hit the market, the trade in futures on the secondary market was hot, with the two-coin gold and silver sets selling for around 9000 yuan; the 5 oz silver coin seeing prices around 9500 yuan; the silver sets selling at approximately 2000 yuan; and the 5 oz gold coin seeing deals in the region of 140,000 yuan. Some of these opening prices are almost double those seen for coins of similar specifications and themes in past years.
However, with the secondary market recently flooded with sellers attracted by these high prices, and buyers sitting on their hands waiting for the price to fall, the market values have fallen somewhat since the set’s first release. The two-coin gold and silver sets are now valued at between 7500 and 7800 yuan; the silver sets at 1700 to 1900 yuan; and the 5 oz gold coin at 110,000 to 115,000 yuan. Interestingly, the 5 oz silver coin has bucked the trend and seen a slight rise to 11,300 yuan. This trend has also been observed with other series and sets issued in the past, with the large-scale silver coins tending to perform rather well.
Xu Beihong’s MCC Portfolio
Xu Beihong’s work has been widely featured on many sets and series issued by the People’s Bank of China. The earliest case is the 1981 Year of the Rooster gold and silver coins. Since then the Lunar series has played host to many of his works: of the 9 coins of the 1990 Year of the Horse series, apart from the three which feature works by Zhang Daqian (1899 – 1983), the remaining 6 all exhibit Xu Beihong’s works. Similarly, the 9-coin 1993 Year of the Rooster series contains two coins featuring Xu Beihong’s paintings. Before this latest 2015 release, 1995 was the last time we saw his works on modern Chinese coins. The 1995 Modern Chinese Famous Paintings series featured one of his artworks, while the four-coin 1995 Centenary of the Birth of Xu Beihong series exclusively featured his paintings. He remains to this day one of the most prolifically featured personalities in the history of modern Chinese coins. This extensive numismatic portfolio is perhaps synonymous with his impact as an artist, as he was highly influential not only in China, but also had a profound effect on many artists abroad.