• gerard van weyenbergh

Leonardo da Vinci once sold £45 in the 50's sold recently more than $400M... part 1

New York, November 15, 2017. At Christie's, at Rockefeller Center, the crowded room is in turmoil. The tension mounts with each new number uttered by a supercharged auctioneer: "Give me two hundred million… Two ninety? Now we've got three hundred million…" The bidders are on the phone. Everyone holds their breath before an explosion of applause and cheers when the last blow of the hammer falls: 400 million dollars (382 M € including costs), in less than twenty minutes, unprecedented! The media around the world then repeat the same title over and over again: "Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci becomes the most expensive painting in the world. »Leonardo da Vinci? The hysteria around this art record, shattering the previous one - theWomen of Algiers by Picasso had left for "only" 179.3 million dollars in 2015 . But there is one missing essential detail: nothing today allows us to say that the painting is indeed from the hand of Leonardo da Vinci. On the contrary, it is far from gaining unanimity among specialists, with a large number of experts considering that it would be more of a workshop work. Cautious or too cautious, therefore barely heard, their words were only vaguely relayed by acquired conscience, relegated to the background.

Soon on display at Louvre Abu Dhabi?

Because Christie's knows how to carry business with a master's hand, according to a perfectly established communication plan, underlining the exceptional character of this Christ. The only painting of the most illustrious genius of the Renaissance (whose corpus is limited to about twenty works) in private hands.

In the hours following the event, each one goes there for his comment; being enthusiastic or worried about the indecency of the market.

Last twist: on December 6, the Louvre Abu Dhabi tweeted that it was going to exhibit the painting soon - the recently inaugurated establishment is currently presenting a masterpiece by Leonardo, the Belle Ferronnière , deposited by the Parisian Louvre for two years. Salvator Mundi's lender According to the New York Times , would be none other than Prince Bader Ben Abdullah Ben Mohammed Ben Farhan Al-Saud, close to Mohammed Ben Salman, the new strongman of Saudi Arabia, of whom he could have been the intermediary. Information denied in the Saudi press.

On November 15 at Christie's in New York, the representatives of the bidders applaud this record in public sale. "Salvator Mundi" becomes the most expensive work in the world.

The acquisition in an Islamic monarchy, where holy images are proscribed , of a painting depicting a Christ would in itself represent a revolution. The Artprice.com website has since clarified that Prince Bader is associated with Anglo-Saxon investment funds. But how did a painting that still poses so many questions end up being sold as a proven Leonardo da Vinci and thus become an international geopolitical issue? Are the arguments put forward for its authentication rational, or is it a formidable coup? And who would be the author if it were not the Florentine master? It is appropriate to wonder about the undersides of a record sale, its gray areas, and its secrets.

Blunders unworthy of Leonardo

Since its origins, the work has been surrounded by many mysteries. Mentioned in the collection of Charles I of England in the XVII th century. Salvator Mundi disappeared from circulation after Cromwell's revolution in 1649, only to reappear around 1900. It is then considered as a work of the hand of a follower of Leonardo. Sold in the 1950s for 45 pounds sterling, this very damaged - even scarred - painting caught the attention of two New York merchants, Alexander Parish and Robert Simon, who acquired it in 2005 for 10,000 dollars (9 000 euros). The two men will then make a crazy bet: bet on a possible reallocation. For this, they take their time.

In 2013, the painting was acquired for $ 80 million at Sotheby's by Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who sold it to Russian Dmitri Rybolovlev, head of AS Monaco, for $ 127.5 million.

In order to authenticate the work, they appeal to the art historian Martin Kemp , professor at Oxford, holder of the Renaissance chair, who validates the work in 2008. However, no one is infallible since, in 2009, said Kemp authenticates a drawing on vellum, the Belle Princesse, like a Leonardo, a work henceforth rejected by the majority of experts, no museum accepting to exhibit it. Whatever sellers can now put forward a scientific authority. A first essential step has therefore been taken. In 2013, the painting was acquired for $ 80 million at Sotheby's by Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who sold it to Russian Dmitri Rybolovlev, head of AS Monaco, for $ 127.5 million. The story is known: the two men find themselves today in court, the first reproaching the second in particular for his delusional commission. But a plateau has just been climbed and the picture is now viewed in a different light.

If many specialists remain skeptical , its exhibition by one of the largest museums in the world will change everything. It is indeed within the National Gallery that he definitely gains credibility. In 2011, the institution organized a tour of the painter's Milan years. The work appears there as an authentic Leonardo, without the careful mention "attributed to" yet appropriate when uncertainties remain. The museum is doing a great job: it is the first time that the painting has been exhibited publicly after restoration.

From Beaux Arts magazine , Daphne Betard