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Alibaba's Ma canvas gets US$5.4m at Hong Kong auction

[HONG KONG] A painting by Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi fetched HK$42.2 million (S$7.7 million) at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong Sunday, 17 times the high estimate. The money will go to a charity to promote environmental awareness.

The oil on canvas painting, titled "Paradise," was executed in 2014 and depicts planet Earth. It was sold to a Chinese businessman, Qian Fenglei, who bid by telephone through Sotheby's Asia Chief Executive Officer Kevin Ching. The upper estimate - auction houses provide a high and a low - of the piece's value was HK$2.5 million.

Mr Ma, who toured Sotheby's on Sunday afternoon before the auction and viewed works by Modigliani, Degas and Willem de Kooning, said "it was an honor" to have his painting sold for charity, though he has no plans to pursue a career in art.

Zeng is one of China's pre-eminent contemporary artists whose painting "The Last Supper" set a record for an Asian living artist when it sold for US$23.3 million at Sotheby's in 2013.

"Paradise" was sold during Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary Asian Evening Art Sale where the most expensive work was a canvas painted in 1960 by Yayoi Kusama that sold for HK$54.5 million. The 86-year-old Japanese painter and sculptor known for psychedelic colors and polka dots, was the most successful living female artist last year, having sold US$163.5 million of works from January 2004 to June 2014.

Sotheby's sold HK$596 million worth of art during the evening sale, compared with HK$603 for its April evening sale in Hong Kong and HK$615 million a year ago. Sotheby's fall sales, running from Oct. 3 to Oct. 7, kicked off with wine auctions on Saturday where the top lot was a three-liter jeroboam of Romanee-Conti Domaine de la Romanee-Conti 2006 from Burgundy that sold for HK$343,000 compared with a high estimate of HK$400,000.

Ma is China's second-richest man, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Proceeds from the sale will go to Paradise International Foundation, a non-profit environmental conservation organization founded by Chinese philanthropists and conservationists, according to Sotheby's website.

BLOOMBERG