The Mystery Of Whitney Duan And The Resale Of Her Priceless Paintings
Art4 Minutes Read

The Mystery Of Whitney Duan And The Resale Of Her Priceless Paintings

December 4, 2021 Share

Whitney Duan, a real-estate billionaire disappeared in 2017. Now, a famous painting she owned has strangely appeared on sale in Beijing.

On September 5, 2017, Weihong Whitney Duan disappeared without a trace from the streets of Beijing. She has never been seen again.

According to her husband Desmund Shum, a businessman and author, Whitney Duan was last seen on September 5, 2017 at her office in Genesis Beijing. This glass-and-steel building, worth $2.5 billion (£1.9 billion), was one of the jewels in the property empire run by Duan and Shum during their 10-year marriage.

Their ambition and networking skills led the couple to make property deals with some of China’s most powerful people, sealed over opulent seafood lunches costing up to $1,000 (£755) ahead. 

It has been four years since she was taken.

Whitney Duan
Whitney Duan, before she disappeared in 2017. Photo By The Art Newspaper

“First of all, we don’t know if she’s alive or dead. The toughest part is that if she ever comes out alive, what state will she be in?” – Desmund Shum 

Her husband believed that she was silenced by the government as she may have been involved with or overheard a number of political discussions that she wasn’t supposed to.

Chinese business tycoon Desmund Shum is now a marked man. These days he lives in the United Kingdom with his 12-year-old son.  

Duan was not only a powerful figure within the business world but she was a power player. Most of her friends were in high places. 

Whitney Duan
Whitney Duan and her husband Desmund Shum. Photo by i newspaper

She was close to the wife of the former prime minister of China, Wen Jiabao and worked with Sun Zhengcai, who saw himself as a candidate for China’s top job.

When Xi Jinping took control of the Chinese Communist Party in 2013, he initiated a high-profile “anti-corruption” campaign. Many of its targets were among China’s ruling elite. Unfortunately, most of these just happened to be Xi’s political opponents.

In 2017, Sun was convicted of bribery and it was about the same time when Whitney, then aged 50, disappeared.

But the sudden appearance of one of her more famous art purchases at a Beijing auction house has revived interest in her fate. 

Whitney Duan
President Xi Jinping. Image by AP

She also had a high-profile collection of Beijing-based contemporary artist Zeng Fanzhi.

Five paintings by artist Zeng Fanzhi was spotted in Poly Auctions in China on 2 December 2021. One of these was said to have belonged to Whitney Duan known as Zeng Fanzhi’s Prayer (2012).

One of the most celebrated artists working today, Zeng’s work is highly sought after on the auction market. 

In October 2013, Sotheby’s Hong Kong sold Zeng’s The Last Supper for $23.3 million (£17.4 million), a record for contemporary Asian art.

Whitney Duan
Courtesy of Zeng Fanzhi

Born in Wuhan, China, in 1964, Zeng grew up during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. He attended the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts, where he developed an interest in German Expressionist painters.

In 1993, Zeng moved to Beijing, and soon thereafter his work underwent a notable stylistic shift. In his famous Mask series, Zeng explores themes of alienation by covering his subject’s faces with leering, empty-eyed masks, which obscure the pain and humanity so readily apparent in his early works. 

According to The Art Newspaper, it is not known if the others also belonged to her, but she was a patron of the artist and had planned to build a studio for him as well as an art museum in one of her developments.

The Wise (2012), which forms a part of the Prayer sold for $4 million (£3 million) at auction.

Zeng Fanzhi’s Prayer (2012)

Even though she has not been seen for four years – it was only until her ex-husband and former business partner Desmond Shum, poised to publish an explosive book about her disappearance, that her family finally heard from her.

The book, Red Roulette, details China’s corruption. Shum was just days to release the book when out of nowhere his missing wife made contact begging him not to.

According to News, she attempted to incriminate him in some mysterious ‘crime’, which she was unable to name, before claiming the book ‘may cost a life’. 

Whitney Duan has still not been seen or heard of since. Duan is just one of a string of wealthy, famous individuals to have disappeared, been banished or punished under Xi Jinping’s reign.

SEE MORE: Domingo Zapata’s Party Opens Art Basel Miami 2021 With A Celebration