The $100 million estimate was apparently pretty conservative.
Leonardo da Vinci's painting 'Salvator Mundi' or ‘Savior of the World’ broke all records for art at auction when it soared to $450.3 million (with fees) at Christie's on Wednesday night in New York. The mind-blowing price far exceeds the previous art auction record of $179.4 million paid for Picasso's 'Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)' in 2015 and also tops the list of prices for known private sales.
The rare Leonardo painting had a $100 million guarantee from a third party, meaning it would sell for at least that amount, and five bidders pursued the work.
A 19-minute bidding battle led to gasps in the audience as the struggle went down to two phone bidders. The still-undisclosed buyer was a phone bidder who went with hefty multimillion-dollar bidding increments, handled by Alex Rotter, chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas. (The old master was wedged in the middle of the contemporary art sale to attract the biggest buyers.)
The sale comes on the heels of a marketing extravaganza that sent the recently-authenticated Leonardo, the last in private hands, on a worldwide tour to London, Hong Kong and San Francisco, and back to New York. Some 27,000 people lined up to the see painting.
Dating from the same period as the 'Mona Lisa,' the circa-1500 'Salvator Mundi' depicts Christ in Renaissance garb, holding a mysterious orb. Discovered in a Louisiana estate sale in 2005 and purchased then for about $10,000, the work has not been without controversy.
"This was a thumping epic triumph of branding and desire over connoiseurship and reality," New York art adviser Todd Levin told the New York Times of the sale.
While some saw hype over a painting that has sustained damage, and a few experts have questioned authenticity, others agreed with Christie's that the "Salvator Mundi" was the "holy grail of our business."
The Leonardo is now the 12th painting to exceed $100 million at auction, and the first old master to reach that threshold, beating out the record of Rubens's "Massacre of the Innocents" that fetched $76.7 million in 2002.
The Christ portrait now also rules the list of most expensive paintings known to have sold in private sales, exceeding a reported $300 million Willem de Kooning, bought by Kenneth C. Griffin and a $250 million Paul Cezanne, "Card Players," bought by the state of Qatar, and even trouncing those records when the prices are adjusted for inflation.
'Salvator Mundi" was sold by the family trust of Russian billionaire Dmitry E. Rybolovlev who had purchased it in 2013 for $127.5 million from Swiss dealer Yves Bouvier. Before that, a consortium of dealers including Robert Simon, Alexander Parish and Warren Adelson sold the painting for $80 million, after having the estate find painstakingly restored and authenticated.
The Washington Post reports on the various disputes and parties involved with the painting. For one, Rybolovlev has bitterly battled with Bouvier over his $50 million mark-up on the Leonardo in an ongoing legal dispute. Sotheby's handled the private sale from Bouvier to his former client.
(Read more from ARTFIXdaily on the work's provenance, backstory, sale, and a failed acquistion bid.)