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Hammered: Da Vinci’s last painting in private ownership smashes auction records

16 November 2017


Record-breaker: Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci

Record-breaker: Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci

SALVATOR MUNDI, a rediscovered painting of Christ by Leonardo da Vinci, sold in New York on Wednesday evening for $450,312,500, including buyer’s premium (£341,068,000), becoming by far the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.

The work realised four times the guide price that had been estimated by the auctioneers, Christie’s (News, 13 October). Surviving paintings by da Vinci are rare — fewer than 20 in existence are acknowledged to be by Leonardo himself — and of those, all apart from Salvator Mundi are held in museum collections. The work had been accepted as a full autograph work after its inclusion in the National Gallery’s 2011-12 exhibition of surviving paintings by the artist.

Almost 1000 agents, collectors, advisors, journalists, and onlookers packed the auction room in the Rockerfeller Center for the sale, and many more tuned into a livestream feed. Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s global president, brought the hammer down after a tense bidding-exchange that had lasted almost 20 minutes before a telephone client defeated a rival, who had bid $370 million, by jumping to $400 million.

The previous owner was a Russian collector, Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, who is said to have bought it in 2013 for $127.5 million (£98 million). In 1958, the painting, unattributed and unrestored, changed hands at a London auction for £45.

Mr Pylkkänen said after the sale that public excitement surrounding the painting had been overwhelming and hugely heartening. ”It is every auctioneer’s ambition to sell a Leonardo, and likely the only chance I will ever have,” he said.

The previous record-holding price for an Old Master artwork was for a Massacre of the Innocents painting by Peter Paul Rubens, which sold for £49.5 million ($65.3 million) at Sotheby’s in London in 2002. A 1950s expressionist piece, Interchange by Willem de Kooning was sold to a hedge-fund founder for $300m (£230m) in 2016.

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