Autumn Hunting of Yuan People, believed to be a joint effort of anonymous painters, depicts a panoramic view of royals and troops of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
Autumn Hunting of Yuan People, which failed to find a buyer at a Beijing Poly auction in 2007, will go under the hammer on Thursday.
After the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), emperor Pu Yi (1906-67) and the imperial household were allowed by the People's Republic of China (1911-49) government to remain in some parts of the Forbidden City, aka the Palace Museum.
But fearing that he would be expelled from the palace, Pu Yi secretly moved out many classical artworks and antiques, which had been in imperial collections but became public holdings following the end of the monarchy in China.
According to historical records, on Jan 11, 1923, 32 traditional ink paintings were taken from the palace on Pu Yi's orders. Among them was a 12.4-meter-long color scroll titled Autumn Hunting of Yuan People.
The painting depicts a panoramic view of royals and troops of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) camping, hunting and banqueting. It features vivid colors and details.
The painting will be auctioned at the inaugural sale of the Shanghai-based Poly Huayi Auction on Thursday.
The auction house was jointly established earlier this year by Beijing Poly International Auction, Huayi Brothers Venture Capital and Tianchen Times.
The upcoming sale will also comprise other classical art, antiques, jewelry and wines.
A preview will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday at Shanghai's Jing An Shangri-La hotel.
Autumn Hunting of Yuan People was cataloged in Shiqu Baoji, a prominent inventory of the Qing imperial collection of art compiled on the orders of emperor Qianlong.
Court experts involved in the project listed the painting as a joint effort of anonymous painters who served in the Yuan court and were familiar with Mongol customs.
But many modern-day scholars date the painting as having been done between the late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing dynasties. Their reason for this is because the bulk of the 20 kinds of weapons featured in the work were not produced until the Ming Dynasty.
Some figures in the painting hold arquebus (hackbut) guns, which were introduced into China only in the reign of Ming emperor Jiajing, according to Nie Chongzheng, a retired researcher from the Palace Museum.
The painting also features some 700 figures, including nobles, court ladies, officials and soldiers.
A unique feature of the work is that some of the soldiers are women and some are seen smoking.
Nie says it was only when Ming emperor Shenzong was in power that tobacco was brought to China.
After being taken from the Forbidden City, the painting landed in the hands of private collectors. It then appeared at a Christie's sale in New York in 1989, selling for .87 million to a Taipei-based collector.
That price was an auction record for a classical Chinese painting and was not broken until 2002, when Xiesheng Zhenqin Tu, a Song Dynasty (960-1279) painting, fetched 25.3 million yuan (.63 million) at a Beijing auction.
Autumn Hunting of Yuan People was put up for sale at a Beijing Poly auction in 2007, but wasn't sold. Reports say concerns about when it was painted was a key reason bidders hesitated.
The Shanghai sale will also see the auction of Qing painter Wang Hui's Landscape.
Wang is one of the Four Great Painters Surnamed Wang from the 17th century for their achievements in the shanshui (mountain-and-water) painting style. He is also one of the Six Master Painters of the early Qing Dynasty.
In the painting, Wang integrated the grandeur of the northern school with the south's elegance and scholarly tastes.
The painting boasts a sound provenance judging from the seal stamps of several collectors on it. It was once owned by Zhang Xueliang (1901-2001), the Kuomintang general who is known for co-instigating the 1936 Xi'an Incident. Zhang was an avid collector of classical Chinese paintings since his 20s.
The painting even has a piece of paper attached to it on which master painter Zhang Daqian made appreciative comments about it in 1981.
Meanwhile, paintings and calligraphic pieces dated before 1911－the founding year of the Republic of China－have registered an eye-catching performance in the auction market this year. Five works from before 1911 rank among the top 10－by price－traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphy sold at auction so far this year.
Zhao Xu, Poly's executive director, says the market for traditional paintings and calligraphy received a boost from 2009 when Belgian couple Myriam and Guy Ullens auctioned their collection of classical Chinese art, acquired mostly at international auctions.
"Top-notch artworks will arouse heated competition among superrich collectors no matter how the economy fares," he says.