Thursday, November 16, 2017

Leonardo da Vinci sets new record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction

The auction sale of Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi at Christies New York yesterday is unusual for a number of reasons - the nature of the sale, the price it went for and the history of the painting

This post is for those who enjoy their art history and includes reference links to other more in-depth articles about the painting.

Salvator Mundi (c.1500) by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) 
25⅞ x 18 in (65.7 x 45.7 cm).
Sold on 15 November 2017 at Christie’s in New York
Here's my summary - each section is followed by referenced to some of the articles which comment in more depth on the painting and the auction

The Auction Sale

  • The final hammer price shattered the world record for a sale of an artwork at auction. The painting sold for $400 million (at a cost of $450,312,500 to the buyer after you include the auction house premium). That equates to a cost to the buyer of £342,182,751.
  • It exceeded the previous highest valued painting at auction by more than $200 million
  • It was very unusually sold at an evening auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art - because it's at evening sales where wealthy art collectors buy their art
“By putting it in a contemporary sale, they shine a big light on the painting.”
  • Almost 30,000 people viewed the painting as it was displayed to the public in The painting was show to the public in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and New York. It's the very first time the painting has been shown to the public in Asia or the Americas.
  • It was billed as "The Last Da Vinci", the "Male Mona Lisa", a "once in a lifetime sale" and the “Holy Grail” for elite collectors
  • The auction house was so confident that it would sell for a high price that it had guaranteed a price of $100 million
  • The bidding lasted 19 minutes with four bidders on the telephone and one in the room. The last bid jumped $30 million to close out the auction!
  • The comments on the Facebook Live Stream of the sale make for interesting and somewhat predictable reading
  • Nobody knows who the successful bidder was. It's likely to remain in private hands.

They made a film of people viewing the painting prior to the sale.


The history of the painting

In terms of art history:
  • the 26 inch tall painting of Christ in a blue robe holding an orb dates back to c.1500 
  • the title means "Saviour of the World"
  • the valuation and the price achieved reflects the extreme rarity of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci- there are believed to be only 20 in existence
  • all the paintings - apart from Salvator Mundi - are in museum collections
  • the painting was originally part of the collection of King Charles II
  • subsequently it disappeared and when it returned it was attributed to his follower Bernardino Luini.
  • It's been reported that “Salvator Mundi” was auctioned in 1958 for 45 pounds, which translates to about $125 today
  • It disappeared for another 50 years and resurfaced in Louisiana in 2005.
  • The painting was bought by Robert Simon (a new York based da Vinci expert and art collector) and art dealer Alexander Parish for $10,000
  • The confusion as to who had originally painted it was caused by the layers of over-painting it had experienced over the years.
  • after much restoration, research and review it was declared to be a da Vinci and was exhibited at the National Gallery in 2011 which, in effect, restored it to a recognised da Vinci painting and assigned it a new valuation.
Crucially, its commercial value has been underpinned by its inclusion in a 2011 exhibition at the National Gallery in London, where the painting was identified as the long-lost “Salvator Mundi” owned in the 17th century by Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I of England. New York Times
the queue for the Da Vinci Exhibition at the National Gallery
  • in 2013 it was sold by a three-person consortium that included the New York art traders Alexander Parish and Robert Simon to an undisclosed private collector who was subsequently by some as Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier. The price paid was $80 million in a private transaction brokered by Sotheby’s.
  • The painting was then sold again to Russian investor Dmitry Rybolovlev for reportedly for some $127.5 million. 
  • There then followed disputes as to who had paint too much or too little.
The traders, Sotheby’s lawyer wrote, “apparently experiencing seller’s remorse, are trying to gain the benefit of a subsequent sale price that Sotheby’s had nothing to do with.”


The restoration of 'Salvator Mundi'

  • The restoration of the painting was started in 2007 and lasted six years. The job was given to Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a professor of paintings conservation at New York University
The inclusion of Salvator Mundi in the National Gallery’s landmark 2011-12 exhibition of Leonardo’s surviving paintings — the most complete display of such works ever held — sealed its acceptance as a fully autograph work by Leonardo da Vinci
  • a pentimento - traces of an earlier painting - were found using X-ray. This suggested that the position of the thumb had been changed. It's the sort of detail you don't tend to find in copies
  • The painting was also painted on walnut using “many very thin layers of almost translucent paint”. This is very much in the style of other da Vinci pieces.


and finally......

The allure of Leonardo has already inspired Paramount to buy the film rights to Walter Isaacson’s newly published biography of the Italian Renaissance artist, with Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead. New York Times

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