World’s priciest painting may be a Leonardo after all

Issued on: 12/04/2021 – 16:40

Paris (AFP)

The most expensive painting in the world, the “Salvator Mundi”, could, after all, be the work of Leonardo da Vinci, with several media reports contradicting the doubts expressed in a French documentary.

The painting of Christ has not been seen publicly since it was bought by the Saudi royal family at Christie’s 2017 auction for $ 450 million.

The Savior for Sale, a documentary by filmmaker Antoine Vitkine due to air on French television this week, claims the Saudis withheld the painting from an exhibition at the Louvre in 2019 after their experts concluded it was from da Vinci’s workshop and the master produced was only “contributed”.

After extensive coverage of Vitkine’s claims, other media outlets have dismissed his version of the events.

“The Louvre and the C2RMF (its analysis unit) came to the opposite conclusion of the documentary: for them the painting is indeed the work of Leonardo and only by him. This information was communicated to the Saudis in September 2019,” said Didier Rykner. Editor of the La Tribune de l’Art magazine.

The New York Times also reported on this version, saying the results of the analysis had been kept secret because of a dispute over how the painting should be displayed in the Louvre exhibition. The Saudis reportedly insisted that it be hung next to the Mona Lisa.

– ‘Severely damaged’ –

As The Art Newspaper previously reported, a first edition of the exhibition catalog, which revealed the positive results of the analysis, had already been printed by the museum and was even sold in its bookstore for a day.

But the book was withdrawn when it became clear that the Saudis would not loan the painting.

“Of course, the Salvator Mundi has been badly damaged and a large part of it has been renewed by an American restorer, but it’s authentic,” art expert Eric Turquin told AFP, adding that he had never heard any doubt from his contacts at the Louvre.

The museum’s restorers were “strongly against” putting it next to the Mona Lisa, Rykner said, fearing it would cause too many security issues to have the two most famous paintings side by side.

“They also thought that while this portrait clearly had its place in the exhibition, there was no reason to make it the most important in the retrospective just for reasons related to the auction price,” he added.

The Louvre has refused to comment on any of these issues.

A source well aware of the discussions told AFP that this version of events was closer to reality than that of Vitkine’s documentary.

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 $ 127.5 million.

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