Cleaners at the city's Grand Hyatt hotel are suspected to have dumped a painting that had just sold for more than HK$28 million with rubbish that was then taken to a landfill.
The Chinese ink wash painting, Snowy Mountain, by Cui Ruzhuo went under the hammer for HK$28.75 million, the second highest price among 22 of the artist's works sold during a two-day sale in the five-star Wan Chai hotel.
A police source said officers scrutinising closed-circuit TV footage yesterday saw a security guard kick the packaged artwork over to a pile of rubbish.
Cleaners were then seen disposing of the rubbish, which is believed to have been taken to landfill in Tuen Mun.
The source said police had been to the landfill but could find no trace of the painting.
A police spokesman today said the case had been classified as "theft", adding that no arrests had been made.
A Grand Hyatt spokesman said the hotel would not be responsible for the lost of the painting.
“It is the auction houses or third party exhibitors that handle the installation and dismantling of their own exhibitions, whether by themselves or hiring a contractor,” said the spokesman. “The hotel is not responsible for the security of the exhibits.”
Almost 2,000 items, including oil paintings and jewellery, were sold during the auction for a total of more than HK$1.1 billion. Another Cui work - Landscape in Snow - went for HK$184 million.
Born in Beijing in 1944, Cui taught at the Central Academy of Fine Art in his early career, before emigrating to America in 1981. He returned to live in Beijing in 1996.
Cui's works are popular among collectors and museums. In 2011, one of his works was sold at HK$43.2 million at the spring auction by Christie's, the highest price among all contemporary Chinese artists' works in spring auctions that year.
Last year, a Japanese company bought almost 100 of Cui's pieces and a museum in Japan's Izu peninsula, and renamed the museum after Cui. The museum is by far the largest museum in Japan dedicated to an individual Chinese artist.
A Poly Auction spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday morning.
Poly Auction Hongkong was established in 2012. Its parent company is Poly Culture Group Corporations, which was listed on the main board of the Hongkong stock exchange last year.