News ID: 204201
Published: 0212 GMT November 12, 2017

Da Vinci's Christ is New York auction season star

Da Vinci's Christ is New York auction season star

A painting of Jesus Christ by the Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci circa 1500, 'Salvator Mundi', is the star lot in New York's November art auctions, that will see Christie's and Sotheby's chase combined art sales of more than $1 billion.

It goes under the hammer at Christie's on Wednesday, something of an incongruous lot in the post-war and contemporary evening sale, which attracts the biggest spenders in the high-octane world of international, billionaire art collectors, reported.

The auction house, which declines to comment on the controversy and identifies the seller only as a European collector, has valued it at $100 million.

"Look at the painting, it is an extraordinary work of art," said François de Poortere, head of the old master's department at Christie's. "That's what we should focus on."

But the price will be closely watched — not just as one of fewer than 20 paintings by Da Vinci's hand accepted to exist, but by its owner, Dmitry Rybolovlev, the boss of football club AS Monaco who is suing Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier in the city-state.

Rybolovlev accuses Bouvier of conning him out of hundreds of millions of dollars, in parting with an eye-watering $2.1bn on 37 masterpieces. One of those works was 'Salvator Mundi' which has been exhibited at The National Gallery in London.

Bouvier bought the Da Vinci at Sotheby's for $80 million in 2013. He resold it to the Russian tycoon for $127.5 million.

The painting's rarity is difficult to overstate. For years it was presumed to have been destroyed. In 1958, it fetched £45 ($60 in today's money) and disappeared again for decades, emerging only in 2005 when it was purchased from a US estate.

It was long believed to have been a copy before eventually being certified as authentic. All other known paintings by Da Vinci are held in museums or institutional collections.

"For auction specialists, this is pretty much the Holy Grail," Loic Gouzer, co-chairman of Christie's Americas post-war and contemporary art department, said. "It doesn't really get better than that."

Christie's has sought to emphasize Da Vinci's inestimable contribution to art history by hanging 'Salvator Mundi' next to Andy Warhol's 'Sixty Last Suppers' — which depicts Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' 60 times over, also on sale with a $50 million estimate.

Pablo Picasso holds the world record for the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction. His 'The Women of Algiers (Version O)' fetched $179.4 million at Christie's in New York in 2015.

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