Brothers in legal wrangle over father's precious art collection

Two sons of a late collector of precious artworks have become embroiled in a legal dispute over the proceeds of their father's collections auctioned by Sotheby's.

Winston Kao, a son of late collector Kao Ling-mai, has filed a High Court writ against his brother John Kao Kim.

Their father was a famous photographer who set up a photography and art business in a Tsim Sha Tsui shop in 1971. The man, who had 11 children, was a close friend of Chinese artist Zhang Daqian. He also collected Zhang's works.

Kao Ling-mai died in 1993. Before his death, he had more than 120 artworks classified under a "special collection" and over 100 others by Zhang and other famous artists, the writ stated.

In 1995, Kao Ling-mai's wife died without a will. Winston Kao then claimed he was using the Tsim Sha Tsui shop to do business.

But in 2005, John Kao and eight other siblings lodged a complaint against their brother over the property.


They eventually reached a settlement, agreeing for the property and all their father's paintings and calligraphies to be distributed equally among the 11 siblings and their families. The "special collection" would be publicly auctioned by Sotheby's, and thereafter, the proceeds similarly distributed.

But in his writ, Winston Kao claimed John Kao "wrongfully" withheld HK$33 million from him, paying him only HK$22.8 million. He said Sotheby's had in May last year sold 25 "special collection" items for a total of HK$626 million after deducting expenses.

Winston Kao claimed for losses and damages. He asked the court to order the removal of John Kao as an agent of the settlement agreement and also to order a full account of their father's entire collection.

He also sought an injunction to restrain his brother from selling the artworks.



This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Brothers in lawsuit over father's art collection