New York 16 Nov. 2017 (Misc Media)
Salvator Mundi, the long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting of Jesus Christ commissioned by King Louis XII of France more than 500 years ago, has sold at Christie’s in New York for $450.3m, including auction house premium, shattering the world record for any work of art sold at auction.
The painting, which was once part of Charles I’s Royal collection and was sold for just £45 in the 1950s when it was mistaken for a copy, is the last remaining Leonardo in private hands.
After 19 minutes of dueling, with four bidders on the telephone and one in the room, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” sold on Wednesday night for $450.3 million with fees, shattering the high for any work of art sold at auction. It far surpassed Picasso’s “Women of Algiers,” which fetched $179.4 million at Christie’s in May 2015. The buyer was not immediately disclosed.
There were gasps throughout the sale, as the bids climbed by tens of millions up to $225 million, by fives up to $260 million, and then by twos. As the bidding slowed, and a buyer pondered the next multi-million-dollar increment, Jussi Pylkkanen, the auctioneer, said, “It’s an historic moment; we’ll wait.”
Toward the end, Alex Rotter, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art, who represented a buyer on the phone, made two big jumps to shake off one last rival bid from Francis de Poortere, Christie’s head of old master paintings.
The price is all the more remarkable at a time when the old masters market is contracting, because of limited supply and collectors’ penchant for contemporary art.
And to critics, the astronomical sale attests to something else — the degree to which salesmanship has come to drive and dominate the conversation about art and its value. Some art experts pointed to the painting’s damaged condition and its questionable authenticity.
“This was a thumping epic triumph of branding and desire over connoisseurship and reality,” said Todd Levin, a New York art adviser.
Christie’s marketing campaign was perhaps unprecedented in the art world; it was the first time the auction house went so far as to enlist an outside agency to advertise the work. Christie’s also released a video that included top executives pitching the painting to Hong Kong clients as “the holy grail of our business” and likening it to “the discovery of a new planet.” Christie’s called the work “the Last da Vinci,” the only known painting by the Renaissance master still in a private collection (some 15 others are in museums).
“It’s been a brilliant marketing campaign,” said Alan Hobart, director of the Pyms Gallery in London, who has acquired museum-quality artworks across a range of historical periods for the British businessman and collector Graham Kirkham. “This is going to be the future.”
The artwork has been the subject of legal disputes and amassed a price history that ranges from less than $10,000 in 2005, when it was spotted at an estate auction, to $ 200 million when it was first offered for sale by a consortium of three dealers in 2012. But no institution besides the Dallas Museum of Art, which in 2012 made an undisclosed offer on the painting, showed public interest in buying it. Finally, in 2013, Sotheby’s sold it privately for $80 million to Yves Bouvier, a Swiss art dealer and businessman. Soon afterward, he sold it for $127.5 million, to the family trust of the Russian billionaire collector Dmtiry E. Rybolovlev. Mr. Rybolovlev’s family trust was the seller on Wednesday night.
There was speculation that Liu Yiqian, a Chinese billionaire and co-founder with his wife of the Long Museum in Shanghai, may have been among the bidders. In recent years, the former taxi-driver-turned power collector has become known for his splashy, record-breaking art purchases, including an Amedeo Modigliani nude painting for $170.4 million at a Christie’s auction in 2015. But in a message sent to a reporter via WeChat, a Chinese messaging app, Mr. Liu said he was not among the bidders for the Leonardo.
“There is extraordinary consensus it is by Leonardo,” said Nicholas Hall, the former co-chairman of old master paintings at Christie’s, who now runs his own Manhattan gallery. “This is the most important old master painting to have been sold at auction in my lifetime.”