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Sotheby's drops sale of US$1.6 mil. painting as nun claims ownership

HONG KONG -- Sotheby's said on Monday it has canceled the sale of a Chinese painting by a top-selling artist at its auction in Hong Kong, after its ownership was challenged by a Taiwanese Buddhist nun.

The 1950 painting, “Riding in the Autumn Countryside” by Zhang Daqian, was expected to fetch up to US$1.6 million at Monday's fine Chinese paintings sale, where 325 art works valued at up to US$22 million will go under the hammer.

“Since the claimant and the consignor cannot resolve the issue to their mutual satisfaction, Sotheby's has decided to withdraw the painting from the auction,” the auction house said in a statement.

Taiwanese Buddhist nun Lu Chieh-chien has filed a writ against Sotheby's in the Hong Kong High Court claiming ownership of the painting, the South China Morning Post reported.

Lu said Zhang — the world's number one artist ranked by auction revenue, according to France-based data provider Artprice — gave the painting to her late father, who was a close friend of the painter, in the 1950s.

Lu said the painting was given to her as a wedding gift, but when she became a Buddhist nun she passed it on to her brother. The Post reported that Lu's brother had entrusted the painting to an employee for safe-keeping but was unable to retrieve it.

Lu reportedly contacted Taiwanese police in September when she saw the painting featured in a Sotheby's advertisement.

Sotheby's recorded US$15.5 million for its modern and contemporary Southeast Asian painting sale on Sunday, more than double its estimates. The top lot was a painting by Indonesian artist Lee Man Fong which sold for US$4.4 million.

Zhang was one of the best known Chinese artists of the 20th century whose works raked in US$550 million in auction revenue last year, overtaking Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso in the rankings, according to Artprice.

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This photo taken on June 25 shows the 1950 painting “Riding in the Autumn Countryside” by Chinese artist Zhang Daqian.

(AFP)

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