A Taiwanese Buddhist nun has filed a writ against Sotheby's claiming ownership of a painting due to be auctioned tomorrow.
The painting by Chang Dai-chien, one of the most prolific Chinese painters of the 20th century, is expected to fetch up to HK$12.8 million.
Lu Chieh-chien claims Chang was a good friend of her late father, Lu Gen-quan. The former gave the painting, To Paint a Tang Dynasty gentleman holding a horse's rein in the suburbs at autumn, as a gift to her father when he lived in Hong Kong in the 1950s. This is evidenced by Chinese writing on the front of the painting, "For the approval of my colleague Brother Gen-quan".
Her father gave the painting to her when she married in 1983, and she passed it to her brother Lu Chieh-kang when she left home to become a Buddhist nun. Her brother entrusted the artwork to an employee, Shu Dun-sie, for safe-keeping when he relocated to Shanghai in 1996.
The writ states that the brother was unable to collect the painting, which has always been kept in its original wooden frame. The brother and Shu remained in touch on the issue until about the end of 2009.
In the middle of last month, Lu Chieh-chien noticed the painting featured in a Sotheby's advertisement for an auction in Hong Kong on October 8.
She reported the case to police in Taiwan on September 21, and later brought the case to the High Court in Hong Kong.
Lu's Taiwanese lawyers have demanded Shu return the painting or give an account of its whereabouts. However, Shu has not replied and his family has refused to say where he is.
Sotheby's said they were looking into the incident and have passed the case to lawyers.
Lu said she would seek compensation from Sotheby's if the painting was put up for auction.
Modern ink artist Chang was ranked by market database Artprice as last year's best-selling artist at auction, toppling his one-time acquaintance Pablo Picasso from the top spot.