The last Leonardo da Vinci — a once-in-a-lifetime record-breaker?
The rediscovered masterpiece attributed to the Renaissance master known simply as Leonardo sold at auction by Christie’s for a world record $450,312,500 on 15th November 2017, obliterating the previous world record for the most expensive work of art at auction.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Salvator Mundi, painted circa 1500.
25⅞ x 18 in (65.7 x 45.7 cm).
The Auction by Christie’s
On a historic night at Christie’s in New York, Salvator Mundi, a depiction of Christ as ‘Saviour of the World’ by Leonardo da Vinci, sold for $450,312,500 / £342,182,751 (including buyer’s premium).
Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s Global President, brought the hammer down on Lot 9B at $400 Million after 19 minutes of bidding to double the previous high, which was set for a work by Picasso in May 2015.
Fees and commissions added to the final total of $450 million.
“It is every auctioneer’s ambition to sell a Leonardo and likely the only chance I will ever have,” said Pylkkänen. “It’s the pinnacle of my career so far. It is also wonderful for an Old Master to be at the centre of such attention. The excitement from the public for this work of art has been overwhelming and hugely heartening.”
He went on to joke that he should hang up his gavel now….
The work, one of fewer than 20 autograph paintings in existence by Leonardo da Vinci, was unveiled to the public in 2011 at the National Gallery in London. The once-in-a-lifetime auction of Salvator Mundi, which followed a global exhibition with 30,000 people viewing the painting at Christie’s exhibitions of the ‘Male Mona Lisa’ in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and New York.
The main auction room at Rockefeller Center was packed with nearly 1,000 art collectors, dealers, advisors, journalists and onlookers, with many thousands more tuning in via a live stream.
The Controversy of Provenance
There are fewer than 20 in existence acknowledged as being from Leonardo’s own hand, and all apart from Salvator Mundi are in museum collections. The rediscovered work, which had previously been owned by King Louis XII of France, King Charles I, King Charles II and King James II of England, had “vanished” for almost 200 years.
The painting first resurfaced in London, described as a “copy” in a 1913 catalogue because it had been “painted over”. It was sold in 1945 for £45 to a private collector and “disappeared” again. Six decades passed before it was spotted at an American clearance sale in 2005.
After several years of restoration, scientific analysis and academic research, Christie’s claimed that it was presented to the world’s leading Leonardo da Vinci authorities (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, National Gallery in London, Louvre in Paris and University of Oxford), who reached a “broad consensus” that it was the missing original. The rock crystal orb is cited as a key piece of evidence that the painter knew about the Sciences.
There are experts, even from the engaged at the learned institutions mentioned above, who examined the painting and are not totally in “broad consensus” with their peers.
Those views are moot now that the Christie’s marketing has been so successful; that also garnered $50 Million in fees and commission for the auction house.
The $450 Million sale price is all the validation it needs…..
“The true cost of luxury is the choice that it affords.”
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).