Zeng Fanzhi painting once owned by the 'disappeared' Chinese entrepreneur Whitney Duan sells for $5.2m in Beijing

Prayer was one of five paintings by the Chinese artist “entrusted by an important institution” to the state-owned Poly Auction

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Zeng Fanzhi's Prayer (2012)

Courtesy of Poly Auction

Zeng Fanzhi's Prayer (2012)

Courtesy of Poly Auction

Five paintings by the Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi which were “entrusted by an important institution” to the state-owned Poly Auction sold well in Beijing on 2 December.

They were all included in the firm’s Modern and contemporary art sale, and at least one is believed to have belonged to Whitney Duan, the real-estate tycoon who was “disappeared” in 2017. It is not known if the others also belonged to her, but she was a patron of the artist and had planned to build a studio for him as well as an art museum in one of her developments.

The top price was made for Prayer (2012), estimated at CNY8m-CNY16m ($1.2m-$2.4m) which fetched CNY33m (about $5.2m, the price Duan paid for it before she vanished, according to her former husband’s book Red Roulette).

Whitney Duan, her ex-husband, Desmond Shum, and their son, Ariston, on a rafting trip before her disappearance

The Wise (2012), which forms a diptych with Prayer and bore the same estimate, sold for CNY31m ($4.m). Tiger (2011) made CNY9.7m ($1.5m estimate; CNY4m-CNY6m) and The Ape, 2010, was hammered down for CNY9.1m ($1.4m; estimate CNY5m-CNY8m).

Weihong “Whitney” Duan was once one of China’s richest women, but since she disappeared from her Beijing home in September 2017, along with her housekeeper, she has not been heard of. It seems she backed the wrong person in China’s highly dangerous party politics.

She is by no means the only person to be “disappeared” in China: recently the artist Ai Weiwei told BBC News that this was a common occurrence: “it happens every day”. Currently there is much concern about the tennis champion Peng Shuai who accused a former senior Chinese official of sexual assault. The World Tennis Association has said it will suspend all tournaments in China because of continued concerns over her safety.

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