Billionaire couple behind Shanghai's Long Museum to sell off US$150m worth of art

With less than two months remaining until Sotheby's Hong Kong Autumn Sales, the auction house announced that the founders of Shanghai's Long Museum, Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei, will sell off some 50 artworks from their collection later this year. The value of the batch is estimated at about US$150 million.

Dubbed "the eccentric Liu", the Chinese tycoon and prolific art collector has made a name for himself in the West with high-profile purchases at auction over the last decade.

Some big buyings included the US$36 million doucai “chicken cup” from the Chenghua period at Sotheby's in 2014; and Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché for a whopping US$170.4 million at Christie's in 2015, which was the second-most expensive artwork ever sold at auction at the time.

Based on the promotional video released by Sotheby's, it appears that the evening sale will include Modigliani's portrait of Paulette Jourdain, which changed hands for US$42.8 million at Sotheby's New York in 2015. 

Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei founded the Long Museum in Shanghai

Amadeo Modigliani | Paulette Jourdain | Sold: US$42.8 million, Sotheby's New York, 2015 (included in the house's promotional teaser)

Born in 1963 into an impoverished family in Shanghai, Liu Yiqian sold handbags on the street as a teenager and later became a taxi driver. In the early 1990s, he rode on the wave of China’s economic opening and built his first fortune through stock trading.

Now, he is the chairman of Sunline Group, an investment company whose interests include chemicals, pharmaceuticals and financial services. According to Forbes, Liu has a net worth of US$1.33 billion as of 2016.

In 2012, Liu and his wife Wang Wei founded Long Museum in Shanghai to showcase their private art collection. In Sotheby’s news release, it is stated that the proceeds from the upcoming sale will go to “further a number of key initiatives at the museum, while at the same time funding future acquisitions.”

Among the 50 pieces to be offered include major examples by Amadeo Modigliani, Zao Wou-ki, Kazuo Shiraga, Léonard Foujita, René Magritte, David Hockney, Matthew Wong, Dana Schutz, Nicolas Party, Georgette Chen and Yayoi Kusama.

While other details are not yet disclosed, it is likely that the artwork headed for auction this fall will come from Long Museum's collection – and it remains to be seen which ones will make their appearance at Sotheby's. 

A list of paintings by the artists mentioned by name from Long Museum's collection (and not sure if they will be auctioned): 

Zao Wou-ki | 25.06.86 Peach Blossom Land | Collection of the Long Museum

David Hockney | A Picture of a Lion | Collection of the Long Museum

Yayoi Kusama | Pumpkin | Collection of the Long Museum

Léonard Foujita | Reclining Nude with Toile de Jouy | Collection of the Long Museum

Kazuo Shiraga | Autumn | Collection of the Long Museum