Sotheby’s sets the record straight over sale of da Vinci masterpiece

Sotheby’s auction house has weighed in on a legal battle over the sale of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci in an effort to absolve itself of any wrongdoing.

In a deal facilitated by Sotheby’s, a company controlled by Geneva Freeport operator Yves Bouvier purchased da Vinci’s ‘Christ as Salvator Mundi’ (c.1500) for US$80 million (£64 million) in 2013 from a consortium of art dealers including Alexander Parish, Warren Adelson of Adelson Galleries and Robert Simon. Bouvier immediately sold the painting on to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for US$127.5 million (£102.6 million). Now the consortium claims that Sotheby’s shortchanged them on the 2013 sale and they are threatening to sue the auction house for the difference in price.

On Monday (21 November), Sotheby’s responded by filing a request in Manhattan federal court for an order absolving it of any wrongdoing. It claims the dealers’ consortium is ‘experiencing seller’s remorse’ and the auction house is not liable for any losses incurred on the 2013 sale. Sotheby’s insists it merely acted as a facilitator between the consortium and Bouvier and was not involved in the subsequent sale to Rybolovlev. In a statement emailed to artnet News, Sotheby’s explained that their preemptive suit was not a claim for damages but ‘a request for the court to set the record straight and silence any claims of wrongdoing’.

‘Christ as Salvator Mundi’ was allegedly bought by art dealer Alexander Parish for less than US$10,000 (£8,049) at an estate sale in Louisiana in 2000. Originally, it was attributed to one of da Vinci’s students but was subsequently accepted as part of the artist’s catalogue. The work is just one of approximately 38 paintings for which Bouvier is alleged to have overcharged Rybolovlev by US$500 million to $1 billion (£402 million to £805 million) over the course of a decade. These included pieces by Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko and Leonardo da Vinci. Rybolovlev has sued the ‘Freeport King’ for fraud in Monaco and Singapore.

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