[WATCH] Lost Leonardo da Vinci painting sells for $450 million

'Four hundred million selling here at Christie's. The piece is sold'

Salvator Mundi, the long-lost Leonardo da Vinci (Photo: Houston Chronicle)
Salvator Mundi, the long-lost Leonardo da Vinci (Photo: Houston Chronicle)

Salvator Mundi, the long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting of Jesus Christ, commissioned by King Louis XII of France more than 500 years ago, was sold at Christie’s in New York for $450.3m, including auction house premium, shattering the world record for any work of art sold at any auction.

The sale generated a sustained 20 minutes of telephone bidding as the auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen juggled rival suitors before a packed crowd of excited onlookers in the salesroom.

At one point, Pylkkanen remarked: “Historic moment, we’ll wait” as the bidding went back and forth, pausing at just over $200m as it rose to break the auction record.

“Thank you all for your bidding,” said Pykklanen. “Four hundred million selling here at Christie’s. The piece is sold.” 

The auction house would not reveal the identity of the buyer or even the region from which they came.

Christie’s CEO, Guillaume Cerutti, said he did not know whether the buyer would reveal themselves. “I cannot say if he or she will want to be public.”

At the height of the auction, as many of six bidders were in play. The abrupt $20m and $30m jumps in price were indeed unusual, Cerutti confirmed.

“They reflected the importance of the painting and that some of the bidders were conscious that the price would go higher than their bids. Probably, they knew there was room before the end of the competition.”

“They wanted to get the job done quicker, but it still took a long time.” 

The sale places Salvator Mundi as the highest-priced work sold privately or at auction, including Pablo Picasso’s 1955 Women of Algiers (Version O), sold for $179.4m, and Amedeo Modigliani’s 1917-18 Reclining Nude, sold for $170.4m. Record private sales are believed to include $250m for a painting by Paul Cézanne and $300m for a Paul Gauguin.

After the sale, Pykklanen said the sale had been his “ultimate privilege.

“It’s the zenith of my career as an auctioneer. They’ll never be another painting that I shall sell for more than this painting tonight.”

The painting was consigned to Christie’s by Dmitry Rybolovlev, 50, a Russian fertiliser oligarch who has been at the center of of an art-world scandal involving claims that a Paris-based dealer, Yves Bouvier, cheated the collector out of as much as $1bn on sales of 38 artworks, including the Leonardo.

The sale of Salvator Mundi, which was painted around 1500 and presumed lost until early this century, was Rybolovlev’s largest to date. The collector acquired it from Bouvier for $127m, who had in turn acquired it from Sotheby’s in a private sale in 2013 for about $50m less.

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