Last Da Vinci work in private hands up for £75 million sale

A portrait of Jesus Christ by Leonardo da Vinci which is at the centre of a bitter legal feud will be auctioned for an estimated US$100 million (£75 million) on 15 November 2017.

Painted around 1500, ‘Salvator Mundi’ was first recorded in the collection of King Charles I (1600-1649) in an inventory compiled a year after his execution. Originally thought to be a work by a follower of Da Vinci, it sold for a mere £45 at auction at Sotheby’s London in 1958.

Following extensive restoration, study and examination by international Da Vinci scholars it was authenticated as an autograph work by Da Vinci in 2007. Several ‘pentimenti’ or preliminary sketches in the painting were found, which were said to provide compelling evidence of its authenticity, suggesting that Da Vinci reworked his original ideas for the composition. The National Gallery in London displayed the work in its landmark exhibition ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ in 2011-12.

The painting has now been consigned to Christie’s by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev to be auctioned in November at its Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening sale in New York. Rybolovlev purchased the work for £102.6 million from his former art advisor, the Geneva Freeport operator Yves Bouvier, who had bought it for £64 million from a consortium of art dealers in a deal facilitated by Sotheby’s in 2013.

That deal gave rise to a series of heated legal disputes after the consortium claimed Sotheby’s shortchanged them. Rybolovlev went on to accuse Bouvier of flipping the work with the addition of what Rybolovlev’s spokesman termed “a grotesque unauthorised margin”. The spokesman added that the forthcoming sale would “finally bring to an end a very painful chapter for the Rybolovlev family.”

One of fewer than 20 surviving paintings by Da Vinci, ‘Salvator Mundi’ is said to be the last of these works in private ownership. It will be exhibited by Christie’s in London from 24-26 October before the November sale in New York. Christie’s Old Master paintings Senior Specialist, Alan Wintermute, said the sale was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To see a fully finished, late masterpiece by Leonardo, made at the peak of his genius, appear for sale in 2017 is as close as I’ve come to an art world miracle,” Wintermute stated.

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