Treadmill Titan Poised to Reap 1,800% Return on Zao Masterpiece

(Bloomberg) -- An abstract oil painting by Chinese-French master Zao Wou-ki could sell for 19 times more than its previous purchase price when the work goes on the block at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on Sept. 30.

Taiwanese businessman Chang Qiu Dun, whose company makes treadmills and power tools, paid HK$18.05 million ($2.3 million) for the work, “Juin-Octobre 1985,” at a 2005 auction in Hong Kong, said people familiar with his collection. He kept the 10-meter-long (33 feet) triptych at a purpose-built space next to his factory in the industrial city of Taichung.

Treadmill Titan Poised to Reap 1,800% Return on Zao Masterpiece

Sotheby’s declined to identify the seller and Chang didn’t respond to messages left at the Taiwan offices of his company, P&F Brother Industrial Corp.

If the work sells for the estimated value of HK$350 million ($44 million), it would be the most expensive 20th century Asian painting ever sold at auction, shattering the record of HK$203 million for a Zao work in November at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

Zao, who died in 2013 at age 92, painted the work in 1985 at the behest of his close friend and fellow Chinese emigre, architect I.M. Pei, who was building a commercial complex in Singapore called Raffles City. He spent the last 65 years of his life in France, drawing on both Chinese and European academic traditions, fusing them into his own distinctive abstract expressionist style.

Pascal de Sarthe, a Hong Kong-based dealer who has been selling Zao works for 35 years, said the monumental painting, Zao’s largest composition, could draw bids from buyers in Taiwan, China, Singapore, Indonesia and the U.S., as the artist has a strong international collector base.

"We are seeing the gap closing between U.S. post-war masters like Mark Rothko, Pollock and de Kooning and their counterparts from China," de Sarthe said. "I would not be surprised if the work went for $45 million."

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