An iconic portrait of Chinese leader Mao Zedong by artist Andy Warhol was sold for less than its estimate at an auction in Hong Kong, fetching $12.7 million.
The pre-sale estimate for the painting was put at $15 million.
“Warhol’s Mao, executed in 1973 and one of his many works of the former Chinese leader, was estimated at HK$90 million (US$11.6 million) to HK$120 million (excluding fees) before the sale,” the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Monday.
The report said the final selling price wasn’t very profitable for the seller.
“That did not leave much profit for the seller, a European collector who bought the painting for $12.2 million (around HK$95 million) including fees in 2014, and it was much lower than the $17.4 million that Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau Luen-hung paid for a similar work in 2006,” it added.
According to the state-controlled China Daily newspaper, the painting was Warhol’s first political portrait, “successfully paving the way for a number of other political portraits and subjects including Lenin and Hammer and Sickle”.
Warhol began the silk-screen portraits of Mao in 1972 soon after ties between China and the US began to thaw and President Richard Nixon made his historic trip to Beijing
The newspaper added that the silk-screen image was derived from an official portrait of Mao on the cover of a book Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.
Auctioning iconic Mao portraits could be a sensitive affair on the Mainland. In 2006, for example, an auction house had to call off the sale of “a painting of Mao Zedong used as a model for portraits hung overlooking Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in the 1950s and ‘60s”.
The cancellation followed a huge public outcry against the auction and a wave of online criticism.
“The picture, known as a “mother copy,” was used by artists who painted Mao portraits hung on the Tiananmen Gate, which overlooks the square. The auction house said the original was never displayed on the gate, while copies that did have been lost,” the newspaper said.