Da Vinci Painting with many ‘buyers’

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 11, 2017.

Da Vinci draws record price as wealth drives market. Photo by Bloomberg

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The Louvre Abu Dhabi is getting Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which was sold last month at a Christie’s auction for US$450 million (RM1.84 billion), the most-ever paid for a work of art.

Christie’s said the artwork will be going to the museum, but declined to say whether the Louvre Abu Dhabi bought the painting. The Louvre Abu Dhabi said in a tweet on Wednesday: “Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi is coming to #LouvreAbuDhabi.”

The New York Times reported last Wednesday that Saudi Prince Bader Abdullah Mohammed Farhan al-Saud was the buyer, citing documents it reviewed. Christie’s declined to comment on the report.

Ever since the sale at Christie’s, the identity of the buyer has been the most sought-after secret in the art world and beyond. Buyers from the Middle East and Asia have been snapping up masterpieces to fill regional museums — and pushing prices ever higher.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi — a franchise of the Paris original — is a symbol of the oil-rich sheikhdom’s drive to boost its “soft power” credentials. To differentiate itself from neighboring Dubai, Abu Dhabi is targeting affluent tourists looking for culture and art, and it has also built hotels, theme parks and malls.

The organisation behind the museum became one of the most aggressive buyers on the global art market over the last decade. It opened last month with more than 600 artworks for its permanent collection, including such Old Master paintings as Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child. Da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière is on loan there from the Louvre in Paris.

The museum’s opening has also coincided with a period of heightened political tension in the Gulf and the broader Middle East. As one of the seven sheikhdoms in the United Arab Emirates, and the one with the largest oil reserves, Abu Dhabi is entwined in a Saudi Arabian-led dispute with neighbouring Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism.


Salvator Mundi

Believed to be the last Da Vinci in private hands, Salvator Mundi commanded four times what Christie’s had projected even as sceptics questioned its authenticity. The seller was Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who purchased it for US$127.5 million in 2013.

“We are delighted that the work will again be on public view,” a Christie’s spokesperson said of the record-setting painting.

Alex Rotter, the auction house’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas, represented the anonymous buyer of the Da Vinci and placed the winning bid after a spellbinding 19-minute contest that saw offers at US$200 million, US$300 million and US$350 million fall short. The result obliterated previous world records for an art sale of any kind, including the auction high of US$179.4 million for a Pablo Picasso painting sold in 2015.

At Christie’s Da Vinci auction, the salesroom was full of millionaires and billionaires, including Point72 Asset Management’s Steve Cohen, Blackstone Group LP’s Tom Hill, who collects Old Master works, and philanthropist Eli Broad. — Bloomberg