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Sotheby’s Pulls $1.6 Million Work Challenged by Nun

A man walks by the entrance to a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong, China. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg News

Sotheby’s said it has withdrawn a 20th-century Chinese painting valued at as much as HK$12.8 million ($1.65 million) after a Taiwanese Buddhist nun challenged its ownership.

Sotheby’s made the last-minute decision after receiving a writ in Hong Kong on Oct. 6 on behalf of 60-year-old Lu Chieh-Chien, requesting a court hearing to prevent the sale.

The 1950 ink and color on paper painting entitled “Riding in the Autumn Countryside” by Zhang Daqian had been consigned for sale on Oct. 8 by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong by a Taiwanese client.

“Sotheby’s takes issues of title seriously,” Kevin Ching chief executive officer of Sotheby’s Asia said today. “We will not sell anything that we cannot be sure that we can pass good title to, and therefore we are withdrawing the lot.”

Lu claimed she had received the painting as a wedding gift in 1983, later entrusting it to her brother after joining a monastery. Her brother then moved to Shanghai leaving the work behind in Taiwan with an employee for safekeeping, Ching said.

The South China Morning Post identified the employee as Shu Dun-sie. Sotheby’s declined to say whether he was the consignor of the work because of company policy to keep client information confidential.

The painting by Zhang, one of the best-selling 20th century Chinese artists, was valued as the most expensive work among more than 320 lots offered for sale in Sotheby’s Fine Chinese Paintings sale.

In May 2011, Sotheby’s sold 25 works by Zhang worth HK$681 million, including a painting that fetched a record HK$191 million.

Muse highlights include Robert Heller on rock, Martin Gayford on art, Warwick Thompson on London stage and Ryan Sutton on food.

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