A recently discovered masterpiece from the 29th century has sold at auction for 20 million Euros ($22.1 million) after it was discovered in a theme restaurant in Northern California.

The painting, which has been titled “Slipping Sky” as a result of its blue palette and an eerie sense of dislocation, fetched more than three times its pre-sale estimate at an auction in Hong Kong this past week.

“Slipping Sky,” purchased by an anonymous bidder, is only the second known work by the painter who has been dubbed “The Master of Hebei,” after the future Asian megalopolis in which he will live and work.

Slipping Sky by the Master of Hebei

Until last Wednesday, the piece was being used as a tabletop at the Fremont, California flagship of Wok And Roll—a restaurant chain with three locations that describes itself as “the only pan-Asian Classic Rock oasis in Alameda County.” According to Valentina Dubin, an art specialist with the firm of Peak House, that’s understandable. “It has an almost Formica-like quality,” she said. “And it wipes clean very easily. My understanding is that the contractor found it leaning against the back wall of an antique shop, and fell in love with it.”


The Wok and Roll contractor clearly did not know that he had stumbled across a prime example of 29th-century abstract art. The 36-inch by 48-inch painting was recognized by Dubin during a trip to Wok and Roll. “I ordered the Lindsey Buckingham California roll,” she said. “When the waitress brought it and put it on the table, I gasped. It was the first time I had really looked down, and it hit me all at once.”

It didn’t take long for Dubin to identify it. “Future painting is rare, of course,” she said. “Now and then works slip through wormholes, or they appear via time travelers. I mean, that’s just speculation. All we know is that we occasionally see paintings that haven’t yet been made. This particular example was undeniable from the start, partly because I have seen one other work by this painter.”

Thinning Window (detail), by the Master of Hebei

That work, the famous “Thinning Window,” now hangs at the Pompidou Center in France, but back in 2002, when it was discovered in a movie producer’s house in London, Dubin was just a young intern. “I wasn’t in on the discovery of that,” she said. “But a classmate of mine was dating the son of this producer, and I had the opportunity to visit their home with a team of appraisers and see it up close.”


“Thinning Window” and “Slipping Sky” are believed to be part of a series that will be made in the year 2850 or thereabouts. “We don’t know too much about this artist,” Dubin said, “apart from the hallmarks—the amazing use of color, the surprising and almost photorealistic details deployed around the edges, and the overall sense that the thing is pulsing or breathing.” That pulsing or breathing quality, which art historians and biologists call “bio-interactivity,” helped art historians date the work, as the technique will not be invented until the 24th century, and will not be perfected until almost three hundred years after that.

Valentina Dubin

The new painting, which will be transported from Fremont to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City at the request of the winning bidder, remains in excellent condition, partly because it is newer than new. For now, the most pressing question is what to do with the money.  “It’s a somewhat unprecedented situation,” Dubin said. “The plan is to use most of the money for arts education and put a tenth of it in a trust. By the time the painter is born, that amount will have grown again to at least that much.”

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