A rare bronze horse-head sculpture looted from Beijing during the 19th century is expected to cause a fuss when it crosses the block in Hong Kong next month.
Sotheby's will sell the statue, one of 12 Chinese-zodiac-inspired sculptures that French and British troops plundered from the Old Summer Palace in 1860, at an auction of Chineseimperial art and artifacts in October.
According to the auction house, an unidentified Taiwanese collector purchased the bronze relic at a Sotheby's auction in London in 1989 for about £200,000 (about $422,000 Cdn). It was the first time the piece had surfaced since 19th-century French troops first removed it from Beijing and sold it.
The horse-head bronze was one of a dozen statues — depicting the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac — from an elaborate imperial water clock and fountain originally designed by Jesuit missionaries.
Only seven of the 12 sculptures have been located.
The rabbit and rat sculptures are held in a private European collection while the boar, tiger, monkey and ox are in the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.
In the past, the Chinese government has called for the foreign-held sculptures to be returned to China.It spent millions to recover the tiger, monkey and ox heads at auction.
Lawyers forthe auction househave said that its upcoming sale of the statue is legal. However, Nicolas Chow, head of the Chinese ceramics and works of art department at Sotheby's, has said the firm hopes the bronze "will be repatriated to China."
The auction house expects the horse-head sculpture to fetch upwards of $8 million.