Sotheby’s Sues Art Investor for £3 Million

Which two paintings went unpaid?

Olyvia Kwok Photo: via Willstone Management

Prominent London and Hong Kong–based art investor Olyvia Kwok has been sued by Sotheby’s for just over £3 million, the Telegraph reports. The suit stems from Kwok’s alleged non-payment on two paintings she purchased from the auction house during its February sale of contemporary art in London. The High Court writ amounts to £2,974,400 plus interest of £43,964.08. Kwok runs art and gem investing firm Willstone Management.

The paintings are Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Water-Worshipper (1984) and Cy Twombly‘s Idilli (1976). The works sold for £2,490,500 and  £386,500, respectively. Kwok has said that the paintings were purchased for a European client based in Hong Kong. The client was a new referral to Kwok’s firm and had reportedly given unsubstantiated confirmation about his ability to pay for the works.

“She took him on trust, something she now regrets,” a spokesman for Kwok told the Telegraph. “It is a very unfortunate situation and the first time Olyvia has had any kind of problem like this. She is an innocent party. This gentleman asked to buy the paintings then turned out not to have the funds. She is in the process of paying for the paintings and she will then sell them in due course to other collectors.”

Kwok Remains Bullish

If, despite this legal bind, Kwok remains as bullish about the painting’s market as she did following the sale—or at least if she can find a buyer who shares her enthusiasm—all should soon right itself for a tidy profit. Following her purchase, the Telegraph reports Kwok saying, “I think it was a bargain,” about the Basquiat, “and I believe that by the end of the year it will be in a different league. In 18 months we are looking to double what we paid.”


Jean-Michel Basquiat, Water-Worshiper (1984). Sold for £2,490,500 at Sotheby’s London on February 12.
Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s London.

For Sotheby’s side, things looked to be turning around as well. A spokesperson told the paper that the auction house was in the process of righting the situation. They added, “We’ve now been paid the majority of the proceeds and payment in full is in the process of being amicably resolved. Re the reasons for non-payment, as with all our clients, details relating to payment are confidential.”

According to Willstone Management’s website, the firm typically deals with clients with personal assets that exceed $30 million and who purchase works in the $500,000 and £1  million range. The firm then flips the works several months or years later and retains 20 percent of the profit. Kwok ran her own gallery, which specialized in Asian art, from 2005 to 2009 in London, shuttering the business due to plummeting prices following the financial collapse.

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