Artist Cui Ruzhuo

Multimillion dollar Chinese painting is thrown out with the trash

A painting by celebrated Chinese artist Cui Ruzhuo was auctioned off in Hong Kong on Monday, March 7 for 2.2 million GBP, or nearly $3.7 million USD. But, on Tuesday afternoon, the auctioneers, Poly Auction, reported the painting missing from the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Local police reportedly checked closed-circuit TV footage of the hotel where the fine art auction took place. They saw a cleaning service removing the painting, and the cleaners are believed to have thrown the artwork away by mistake. A police source said officers scrutinizing the footage also saw a security guard kick the packaged artwork over to a pile of garbage. The cleaners were then seen disposing of the trash, which was bound for a landfill in Tuen Mun. The source said police had checked the landfill but could not find any trace of the painting.

The painting is a Chinese ink wash piece called "Snowy Mountain," and it fetched the second-highest price among 22 of Ruzhuo's works that were sold during the two-day auction. The artwork depicts a mountainside with trees in the foreground, covered in a layer of fresh snow.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson with the police said the case had been classified as a theft but no arrests had been made. The Grand Hyatt Hotel declared it would not be responsible for the painting, stating that it is the responsibility of the auction house or third-party exhibitors that handle the art installations to dismantle their own exhibitions, so the hotel has no liability for the security of the auctioned items.

Nearly 2,000 pieces, from oil paintings to jewelry, were auctioned off during the event on Monday and accumulated a total of more than HK$1.1 billion, or roughly $142 million USD. Another piece by Cui Ruzhuo called "Landscape in Snow" sold for HK$184 million, or about $23.7 million USD.

Cui Ruzhuo was born in Beijing in 1944 and taught at the Central Academy of Fine Art before emigrating to the U.S. in 1981. In 1996, the artist returned to live in Beijing. His pieces are popular with collectors and museums. In 2011, one of his works was sold for HK$43.2 million (about $5.6 million USD) at the auction in the spring hosted by Christie's. That was the highest price earned among all the contemporary Chinese artists' works in spring auctions that year.

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