• Employees at Sotheby's take calls from bidders during an auction.

Employees at Sotheby's take calls from bidders during an auction. (Photo : Getty Images)

Taikang Life Insurance Co., one of China's biggest insurance companies, has acquired a 13.5 percent share in Sotheby's with the aim to gain a board seat in the prestigious auction house, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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The company managed by the grandson-in-law of Chairman Mao Zedong, made the disclosure during its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Wednesday, July 27.

Taikang's acquisition has made it the largest shareholder of Sotheby's, bigger than the shares owned by hedge fund managers such as Third Point's Dan Loeb, with 11.38 percent, and Point72 Asset Management's Steven Cohen, with 5.5 percent.

Chen Dongsheng, Taikang's manager, is a well-known art collector who helped established China Guardian Auctions Co. Ltd., the first government-run auction house that specializes in Chinese antiques and calligraphy. Chen is married to Kong Dongmei, Mao's granddaughter.

China Guardian, which ranked next to Poly Guardian, the country's leading auction house, has expanded abroad to attract more buyers.

China Guardian held its first auction sale outside the mainland in Hong Kong in 2012, with antique Chinese ink paintings, calligraphy and imperial-era furniture. A year earlier, it opened its New York office and also holds regular events to attract Chinese antique collections.

Tad Smith, Sotheby's chief executive, said they have met with Taikang's executives and "warmly welcome their support of Sotheby's strategic initiatives."

Taikang expressed its support for Sotheby's "broader strategic initiatives" and said in the filing that it has "provided suggestions regarding future director nominations for election" to the board, including those associated with Taikang.

Singapore-based investment firm Shanda Group also showed interest in Sotheby's three months ago. The firm bought a 2 percent share in the New York Sotheby's in May with U.S. antitrust approval.

Sotheby's has sold Asian art worth more than $460 million in the first half of the year.

Sotheby's shares rose 1 percent to $31.80, in the recent trading.