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Leonardo painting sells for record $US450 million


Leonardo da Vinci’s Christ painting Salvator Mundi has sold for a record $US450 million ($A590 million) at auction in New York.

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The painting, translated as Saviour of the World, is one of fewer than 20 paintings by Leonardo known to exist and the only one in private hands.

The 66-centimetre-tall painting dates from around 1500 and shows Christ dressed in Renaissance-style robes, his right hand raised in blessing as his left hand holds a crystal sphere.

The hammer price reached $US400 million, but including the buyer’s commission, the as yet unnamed purchaser forked out $US450,312,500.

Its path from Leonardo’s workshop to the auction block at Christie’s was not smooth. Once owned by King Charles I of England, it disappeared from view until 1900, when it resurfaced and was acquired by a British collector. At that time it was attributed to a Leonardo disciple, rather than to the master himself.

The painting was sold again in 1958 and then acquired in 2005, badly damaged and partly painted-over, by a consortium of art dealers who paid less than $US10,000. The art dealers restored the painting and documented its authenticity as a work by Leonardo.

The painting was sold on Wednesday by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who bought it in 2013 for $US127.5 million in a private sale that became the subject of a continuing lawsuit.

Christie’s says most scholars agree that the painting is by Leonardo, though some critics have questioned the attribution and some say the extensive restoration muddies the work’s authorship.

Christie’s capitalised on the public’s interest in Leonardo, considered one of the greatest artists of all time, with a media campaign that labelled the painting The Last Da Vinci. The work was exhibited in Hong Kong, San Francisco, London and New York before the sale.

The highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction was $US179.4 million, for Picasso’s Women of Algiers (Version O) in May 2015, also at Christie’s in New York.

A backer of the Salvator Mundi auction had guaranteed a bid of at least $US100 million.

The highest known sale price for any artwork was $US300 million for Willem de Kooning’s Interchange in September 2015. It was sold privately by the David Geffen Foundation to hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.

– AP

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