Questions about authenticity of painting spark Riyadh-Paris spat – Newspaper

PARIS: A French documentary has cast new doubts about the world’s most expensive painting, the Salvator Mundi, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, and a resulting diplomatic dispute between France and its Saudi owner.

The painting was sold for a record $ 450 million at a 2017 Christie’s auction in New York.

Its secret buyer was later exposed as the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, although this is still denied in Riyadh. But there have long been questions about whether it was entirely da Vinci’s work.

The problem reappeared when the painting did not appear as planned at the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum in 2018 and at a blockbuster Da Vinci show at the Louvre in Paris the following year.

Now a documentary, The Savior for Sale, by filmmaker Antoine Vitkine, which premieres on French television next week, shows what’s going on behind the scenes.

In the film, high-ranking officials in President Emmanuel Macron’s government, appearing under pseudonyms, confirm that the Louvre’s scientific analysis of the painting concluded that the master himself, although made in da Vinci’s workshop, was only ” contributed to the painting ”.

Apparently this went down badly with the Saudis.

Argue about authenticity

“Things became incomprehensible,” says one of the French officials in the film. “The request from MBS (Mohammed bin Salman) was very clear: Show the Salvator Mundi next to the Mona Lisa and present him 100 percent as a da Vinci.”

The Saudis were making various offers, the official said, but his recommendation to the Elysee was that it would mean “washing a $ 450 million work of art”.

The documentary alleges that some members of the French government, including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, campaigned for Mohammed bin Salman’s request. They were concerned about the implications for France’s far-reaching strategic and economic ties with Saudi Arabia.

But Macron ultimately decided to reject the Saudi proposal, leaving it up to the Louvre to negotiate with the Saudis about how to display the painting in their retrospective, the documentary said. No deal has been made and the museum has refused to comment on the case.

“The Saudis are scared of this debate about authenticity,” says Chris Dercon, who heads one of France’s leading museum bodies and advises the Saudi government on art, in the documentary.

“They’re afraid people at home and abroad will say,” You spent all that money on something that isn’t Da Vinci. “

The painting was purchased in 2005 from a New York art dealer for only $ 1,175 and has been restored in the United States.

Several British experts authenticated the painting as a long-lost Da Vinci, and it was presented as such at London’s National Gallery in 2011 before being sold to a Russian oligarch two years later for US $ 127.5 million.

Posted in Dawn on April 8, 2021

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