Tonight, at an absolutely packed salesroom at Christie’s headquarters at Rockefeller Center in New York, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500) sold for $450.3 million.
That figure is, by a long shot, the all-time record for a painting at auction and the most ever believed to have been paid for an artwork.
The work had carried a guarantee understood to be around $100 million, so it was a certainty to sell, but the bidding blew past that number quickly and kept going over the course of 19 minutes.
Scattered applause and whistles went through the salesroom when the work reached $200 million, causing the auctioneer, Jussi Pylkkanen, to shush the crowd. The bidding slowed around $230 million, as bidders dueled, but it kept climbing—to $240 million, then $250 million, then $255 million, then $260 million. The bidding increments slowed, climbing by $2 million at a time, to $268 million, then $270 million. It reached $282 million, then $284 million. “Still two of you in the game here,” Pylkkanen said.
As he moved toward a sale, the bidding jumped to $286 million, which was then answered with $300 million. “I thought so,” Pylkkanen said, as the room erupted in laughter and cheers. The bidding sat there for a moment. “We’ll wait. Historic moment here,” he said.
But it just kept climbing—to $310 million, to $318 million. “Are we all done in the salesroom?” he asked. It went to $320 million. “We’re still not done!” Then $350 million arrived, followed by $352 million, and Pylkkanen took a drink of water, playing it cool, apparently unconcerned. The bidders would just not stop, and it went up from there. Finally a bid of $400 million came, which was enough to win the day. The buyer will pay about $50 million in fees.
The result comes after a marketing campaign by Christie’s that spared no expense, involving a worldwide tour of the painting that attracted more than 25,000 viewers and a promotional video that featured a variety of people staring at the work, in some cases being moved to tears. Among those bearing witness were musician Patti Smith and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who will play Leonardo in a forthcoming biopic.
In the days leading up to the sale, there was much discussion of the work’s florid history and condition, and fervent debate about the exact nature of its authenticity, but none of the chatter apparently worried the bidders.
Christie’s touted the work as a commission from King Louis XII of France and his wife, Anne of Brittany, and noted in its promotional materials its unbelievable price history, going for £45 at Sotheby’s in London in 1958 (when no one regarded it as a Leonardo). When it was considered a copy of a lost Leonardo, it sold for less than $10,000 at another auction house in 2005, as the New York Times noted.
The now-embattled Swiss art businessman Yves Bouvier later bought it for $80 million and then sold it for $127.5 million to the Russian oligarch Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, who is currently involved in extensive litigation with Bouvier alleging that Bouvier overcharged him in a number of transactions. The family trust of Rybolovlev is the seller of the painting.