Saudi Prince's $450 Million da Vinci – The World's Most Expensive Painting – Is Not A Real da Vinci

By on November 15, 2021 in ArticlesEntertainment

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Exactly four years ago, almost to the day, Christie's auction house gathered the wealthiest art collectors in the world to bid on what everyone believed was a 500-year-old Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece titled "Salvator Mundi." The painting, which was touted as having been previously owned by three different Kings of England, was expected to fetch $100 million when the final gavel struck.

A 20 minute bidding war erupted with the price increasing in $10 million intervals.

When it was all said and done, a representative of an anonymous bidder won the auction. The winning bid?

$450.3 million

Technically the final bid was $400 million, but the all-in price was $450.3 million when you include the buyer's premium fee.

Below is a a video of the actual auction. Jump to the 6:30 mark to watch the heart-pounding final minute as it goes from $370 million to $400 million, knocking out French billionaire collector Francois Pinault with what became the winning bid:

The gasps you hear at the end of the video are probably occurring because the $400 million bid more than doubled the previous record for most-expensive piece of art sold at a public auction. The previous record was set in 2015 when the former Prime Minister of Qatar paid $179 million for a 1955 Picasso titled "Women of Algiers (Version O)."

So, who paid $450 million for a Leonardo da Vinci?

Officially the buyer was a Saudi prince named Prince Badr bin Abdullah. Unofficially – as in Saudi Arabian officials still deny it – the actual buyer was the country's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, AKA "MBS." And as it turned out, the twists in this tale were just getting started.

Let's travel back in time just a little bit. Want to take a guess as to how much someone paid for Salvator Mundi back in 2005?

$1,175

That's not a typo. In 2005, you could have bought this $450 million painting for a little under $2,000.

After it was acquired in 2005, the painting underwent a full restoration, and, low-and-behold, a group of British art experts proclaimed it to be a long-lost da Vinci.

Upon receiving this incredible new distinction, the lucky owner lent the painting to the National Gallery in London before offering it for sale in 2013. Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev was the buyer in 2013. His final price?

$127.5 million

MBS bought it from Dmitry.

From $1,175 to $123 million to $450 million in just 15 years. A truly remarkable accomplishment even for the art world. Unfortunately, there was just one teeny-tiny problem…

It's not a da Vinci.

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

After the sale, Salvator Mundi was shuttled to Saudi Arabia where it was reportedly put on display on a wall of the prince's yacht.

Next, MBS' plan was to lend the painting to the Louvre in Paris for a 2019 exhibit marking the 500th anniversary of da Vinci's death. That would give his painting the ultimate stamp of authenticity.

Unfortunately, some pesky art experts began to question if Salvator Mundi was actually painted by da Vinci.

Upon learning that the authenticity was in question and conducting their own internal research, the Louvre informed MBS that it would no longer be displaying his painting side-by-side with da Vinci's most-famous masterpiece, the "Mona Lisa." A compromise was not reached and Salvator Mundi was shuttled back to an undisclosed location in Saudi Arabia without ever leaving the Louvre's storage. It has not been seen in public since the auction four years ago.

Fast forward to the present and a fatal blow may have just been delivered to Salvator Mundi.

The Prado Museum in Madrid just announced it had officially downgraded the painting's status to "attributed to, authorized or supervised" by da Vinci. In other words, he didn't paint it. If anything, one of his pupils is the true artist.

If you feel bad for Mohammed bin Salman, keep the following two anecdotes in mind:

1) While MBS was bidding $450 million for Salvator Mundi, hundreds of the richest people in Saudi Arabia were being held by the crown prince against their will at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh. The detainees were reportedly abused over a three month imprisonment and were not released until they agreed to hand over over large portions of their personal fortunes to MBS. One of the detainees was Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal. Prince Al-Waleed, who is MBS' cousin, reportedly handed over $6 billion to earn his release.

2) A year later, in October 2018, a 15-man death squad flew from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul, Turkey on two private jets. They proceeded to kidnap, murder, dismember and dispose dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, one of MBS' most public critics. It's generally believed that the death squad was acting on a personal order from MBS.

Also, MBS is a multi-billionaire who can more than absorb a $450 million painting write-off.

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