Salvator Mundi, a painting done by Leonardo da Vinci, is the most expensive painting in the world. It was sold for a record US$450 million at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2017. The identity of the buyer was never revealed. Recent reports now state that it has been placed on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s yacht.
On the yacht
After the painting was sold two years back, it was apparently “whisked off” in the middle of the night and placed on bin Salman’s yacht. The painting was never seen after that. Last September, the painting was supposed to have been on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. “Having spent so long undiscovered, this masterpiece is now our gift to the world… We look forward to welcoming people from near and far to witness its beauty,” Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, the Chairman of Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism, said in a statement (The Guardian).
However, the painting did not make an appearance at the exhibition and authorities refused to comment on why that was the case. Salvator Mundi, therefore, remained hidden from the public, with no one having a clear idea of where it was. Recently, an art trading platform came into contact with two sources that revealed the location of the painting — it was housed on Serene, the yacht owned by bin Salman. The painting is expected to be on the vessel until Saudi Arabia opens a cultural hub in the Al-Ula region. As of May, the yacht was located off the coast of Egypt.
The yacht was previously owned by Russian billionaire Yuri Shefler, who sold it off to bin Salman for US$500 million in 2016. As to the painting, it was formerly owned by another Russian billionaire who bought it for US$127.5 million in 2013. By selling it to bin Salman for US$450 million in 2017, the owner more than tripled his investment in about four years. After Salvator Mundi, the second most expensive painting is Interchange by Willem de Kooning, which sold for around US$300 million in 2015. In the third spot is The Card Players by Paul Cezanne, which netted US$250 million in a 2011 sale.
There are rumors that the Salvator Mundi painting might actually be a fake. According to art scholar Ben Lewis, the National Gallery in London misled buyers as to the real nature of the painting. They apparently hid the complete review of experts, some of whom had not deemed the painting to be authentic. Two of the appraisers said that the painting was authentic, two commented that they couldn’t be sure of the authenticity, and one flatly said that it was a fake.
“There isn’t enough to claim it’s a Leonardo. His figural development was towards greater naturalism and complexity of posture — heads turning this way, shoulders turning the other way, with twists and movement… The Salvator Mundi is dead-pan flat, like an icon, with no real depth in the modelling. Another unexplained peculiarity is that the figure itself is heavily and uncharacteristically cropped,” Michael Daley, the director of ArtWatch UK, said in a statement (The Guardian).
It is believed that the painting may have been done by one of da Vinci’s studio assistants and that it might not actually have a value of US$450 million, instead, less than US$1,200. Dr. Carmen Bambach, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, criticized Christie’s for claiming they had confirmed the painting was done by da Vinci himself.