Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi enters auction history.
On a historic night at Christie’s in New York, during the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, the Renaissance masterpiece sold for $450,312,500 (including buyer’s premium) and smashed any previous record set for the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction¹.
An incredible sale result that very well reflects the extreme rarity of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. There are fewer than 20 in existence acknowledged as being from the artist’s hand, and all apart from Salvator Mundi are in museum collections.
Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi was, in fact, the last da Vinci’s painting in a private collection.
The global interest in a work considered as the most significant artistic rediscovery of the last 100 years gathered a captivated public of nearly 1,000 among art collectors, dealers, advisors, journalists and onlookers into the main auction room at Rockefeller Center, with thousands more tuning in via a live stream.
Following the sale’s announcement of Salvator Mundi on 10 October at Christie’s, an international exhibition tour started, gathering almost 30,000 people in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and New York — the first time the painting was standing in front of the public in Asia or the Americas.
Salvator Mundi‘s presence at the National Gallery’s 2011-12 exhibition of Leonardo’s surviving paintings — the ultimate display of such works ever held — established its acceptance as an autograph work by Leonardo da Vinci.
The authentication of Leonardo’s painting came after more than six years of meticulous research and inquiry to document the painting’s authenticity. It was a process that began shortly after the work’s discovery in a regional auction in the United States in 2005. Before that, Sotheby’s sold it for £45 to a 1958 sale. The specimen was so heavily veiled with overpaints to be mistaken for a copy.
At Christie’s New York, yesterday night, all the records related to works of art sold at auction became history when Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s Global President, brought the hammer down after an extraordinary bidding battle that lasted almost 20 minutes.
Two bidders remained as contenders, with the increments jumping at one point from $332 million to $350 million in one bid. Then, at just short of 18 minutes, from $370 million to $400 million. One could hear gasps in the saleroom, which gave way to applause when Christie’s co-chairman Alex Rotter made the winning bid for a client on the phone.
It is every auctioneer’s ambition to sell a Leonardo and likely the only chance I will ever have. It’s the pinnacle of my career so far. It is also wonderful for an Old Master to be at the centre of such attention. The excitement from the public for this work of art has been overwhelming and hugely heartening.
Images & videos courtesy of Christie’s
¹ The previous holder of the record price for an Old Master painting was Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens, which sold for $76.7 million in 2002. A previous auction record for Leonardo da Vinci was set at Christie’s in 2001 when Horse and Rider, work on paper, sold for $11,481,865. The previous record for the most expensive work of art at auction was set in the same Christie’s saleroom when Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) achieved $179,364,992.