Once Banned in China, Warhol’s Iconic ‘Mao’ Portrait Is Going Up for Auction in Hong Kong

March 20, 2017, 7:23 AM UTC
A man walks past Mao by US artist Andy Warhol, 1973, an acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, during a pre-auction preview by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on March 17, 2017.
Anthony Wallace—AFP/Getty Images

An Andy Warhol portrait of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong is about to go under the hammer in Hong Kong, and it could be picked up by a buyer in mainland China.

One of the most well-known images of the 20th century, Warhol’s 1973 Mao was sold for $9.4 million in London in 2014. The current owner, who has not been identified, has now put the silk-screen print up for sale with Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, the BBC reports. The auction is expected on April 2 and the sale could fetch up to $15 million.

Warhol’s iconic depictions of the Communist leader were excluded from the Beijing and Shanghai legs of a 26-month Asian tour that marked the 25th anniversary of the artist’s death in 2012. The series of portraits, in Warhol’s classic pop art style, were rejected due to “political sensitivity.”

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More than four decades since his death, actions deemed disrespectful to Mao are still punishable in China. In 2015, a Chinese TV host was sacked for joking about Mao at a private dinner, and this year a university professor suffered the same punishment for writing online that “the only correct thing [Mao] did was to die.”

Officially revered by the ruling Communist Party of China, which he helped found in 1921, Mao is also remembered by many at home and abroad for the tens of millions of Chinese killed by the famines, political persecution, civil strife and wars brought about by his policies.

Opinion in China remains split, according to the BBC, regarding the question of whether the Warhol paintings show respect or mockery.