Salvator Mundi: Da Vinci painting that sold for $450 million headed to Louvre Abu Dhabi

A painting of Christ by da Vinci sold at auction for $450 million is headed to the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi, the museum has said. A US newspaper reported it has found the mystery buyer of the "Salvator Mundi."

The Louvre Abu Dhabi announced via Twitter in English, French and Arabic on Wednesday that the famed Da Vinci painting "is coming to" the gallery.

Christie's auction house, which sold the painting in a record-shattering auction that stunned the art world in November, responded by congratulating the Louvre Abu Dhabi, tweeting that the work of art was going to "its new home."

It was unclear if the painting was going to the Louvre Abu Dhabi on loan, or if the museum purchased it outright or with other buyers. The museum did not immediately respond to DW's request for comment.

Mystery buyer revealed?

Shortly following the announcement, The New York Times reported that it had uncovered the identity of the mystery phone bidder who had paid $450.3 million (€382 million) for the work of art at a New York auction.

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Da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi': $450.3 million

Created around the year 1500, this painting of Christ attributed to Leonardo da Vinci is one of the master's 20 still existing paintings. In 1958, "Salvator Mundi" was sold for just $60 because it was thought to be a copy. It fetched more than four times Christie's pre-sale estimate of $100 million on November 15, when an anonymous bidder paid over $450 million (€382 million) for the work.

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Picasso's 'Women of Algiers': $179.4 million

From 1954-55, Pablo Picasso did a series of 15 paintings inspired by Delacroix's "Les Femmes d'Alger," with versions named "A" through "O." He started them after the death of Henry Matisse, as a tribute to his friend and artistic rival. "Version O" broke the world record for an auction sale, selling for $179.4 million (167.1 million euros) at Christie's in May 2015.

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Modigliani's 'Reclining Nude': $170.4 million

At a Christie's auction held in November 2015, seven potential buyers spent nine frantic minutes bidding on this painting. It was finally snapped by a telephone bidder from China. The nude, painted in 1917-18, provoked a scandal at its first exhibition in Paris. The police shut down the art show after a crowd gathered outside the window.

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Modigliani's 'Nude lying on her left side': $157.2 million

Modigliani's work "Nu couché (sur le côté gauche)" caused such a controversy when it was first shown in Paris in 1917 that the police had to close the exhibition. The Italian artist's oil painting became the most expensive artwork to have been sold at New York auction house Sotheby's in May 2018.

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Klimt's 'The Woman in Gold': $135 million

This 1907 painting by Gustav Klimt is considered one of the most elaborate and representative of his "golden phase." In 2006, it was sold through a private sale brokered by Christie's for a record sum for a painting, $135 million. That same year, Jackson Pollock's classic drip painting "No. 5 1948" broke that record, obtaining $140 million through another private sale.

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Van Gogh's 'Portrait of Dr. Gachet': $149.7 million

Van Gogh allegedly said of the homeopathic doctor Dr. Gachet, whom he painted here in 1890, that "he was sicker than I am." The plant is a foxglove, which is used to make the drug digitalis. In 1990, the work was auctioned off to Ryoei Saito, Japan's second-largest paper manufacturer, for $82.5 million, making it the world's priciest painting at the time (the price above has been adjusted).

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Bacon's 'Three Studies of Lucian Freud': $142.4 million

This 1969 triptych documents Francis Bacon's friendship and rivalry with fellow painter Lucian Freud. At the time it was sold, in November 2013, it obtained the highest price for a work of art at an auction, until Picasso - and now Modigliani - surpassed that record in 2015.

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Renoir's 'Dance at Moulin de la Galette': $141.7 million

This 1876 work by Impressionist master Renoir depicts a dance venue for high society on the outskirts of Paris, the Moulin de la Galette. One of Renoir's most famous works, it exudes the joie de vivre that is characteristic of his style. In 1990, the work was purchased for $78.1 million (adjusted price above) by Japanese buyer Ryoei Saito, along with van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet."

Culture

Picasso's 'Boy with a Pipe': $130.7 million

This portrait of an adolescent holding a pipe and wearing a garland of flowers in his hair was created during the Spanish master's "Rose Period" in 1905. Just a little under a century later, the painting fetched an impressive sum of $104.2 million at a Sotheby's auction in 2004 (price adjusted above).

Culture

Munch's 'The Scream': $119.9 million

This agonizing character painted by Edvard Munch is one of the most iconic paintings in the world. The Expressionist artist had actually made four versions of it: Three are in Norwegian museums, and the fourth one was sold for the screeching price of $119.9 million in May 2012 at Sotheby's, which would be adjusted to $130.7 million today.

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Picasso's 'Young Girl with a Flower Basket': $115 million

Picasso is well represented among the highest earning painters. His 1905 masterpiece "Fillette a la corbeille fleurie" ("Young Girl with a Flower Basket") was sold – along with two other Rose Period paintings – by the artist himself to writer Gertrude Stein in a sale that helped launch his career. The work, which was later part of David and Peggy Rockefeller's collection, sold for $115 million.

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Picasso's 'Nude, Green Leaves and Bust': $106.5 million

Inspired by his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walther, Picasso created this painting in a single day in 1932. If you add the eight minutes and six seconds it took for the auction record bid at Christie's in May 2010, it still appears to be well-invested time. Its price could be adjusted to $115.7 million today.

Citing documents it reviewed, the paper named Saudi Arabia's Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud as the buyer. The Times also described him as having a relatively low public profile and no history as a major art collector, while also being a friend and associate of the country's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Prince Mohammed is in turn believed to be close to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nayhan.

The French weekly le Journal du Dimanche, however, reported that two investment firms were behind the painting's purchase as part of a financial arrangement involving several museums. It said that the work will be lent or resold to museums, largely in the Middle East and Asia.

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What's a fair price for a masterpiece?

"Salvator Mundi" translates to "Savior of the world" and depicts Jesus Christ holding a crystal orb. The 500-year-old oil painting has a colorful, mysterious and controversial history — some art experts still question whether it is an original Leonardo da Vinci painting and it once changed owners in 1958 for $60. Its previous owner, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, had complained he was overcharged for the work by a Swiss art dealer when he had paid $127.5 million for it in 2013.

Read more: Opinion: $450 million for Christ — the art market's perversion of a symbol

Coup for new museum

Exhibiting the painting would prove a major attraction for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in November in a ceremony attended by French President Emmanuel Macron.

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He described the facility, an offshoot of the famous Paris art museum situated in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, as a "bridge between civilizations." 

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An icon of Abu Dhabi

The Louvre museum in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates opens to visitors on November 11. The museum complex features priceless works of art, including pieces on loan from its Parisian namesake and other French museums, as well as regional treasures from numerous civilizations and religions that have flourished throughout history in the Middle East.

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An expensive project

In 2007, the governments of France and the UAE agreed upon a 30-year-long partnership leading to the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi. The branded gallery is estimated to be worth $1.1 billion (€919 million), with the rights to the name alone said to cost some $520 million. The museum is set in Saadiyat Island Cultural District, which aspires to be the world's largest cultural complex.

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A decade in the works

The building was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. The main building's silvery dome allows light to flow through it, mimicking the sunlight that streams through palm fronds. The pools of water also liken the cultural complex to a desert oasis. The museum project took around 10 years to complete, and the opening ceremony was pushed back from 2012 due to construction delays.

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'See humanity in a new light'

The slogan of the new Louvre highlights the architecture's play with light while simultaneously paying tribute to the museum's stated mission to focus "on what unites us: the stories of human creativity that transcend individual cultures of civilizations, time or places." Along with a permanent collection, four temporary shows per year will showcase exhibits from ancient to current times.

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Cultural cooperation or sell out?

With this project, the Louvre joins other top museums like the Guggenheim that have opened international locations. Critics have accused the French museum of "selling out" by prioritizing profit over artistic integrity. Allegations of worker exploitation also dogged construction. However, the project's leaders have argued that the partnership and collection testify to cross-cultural understanding.

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A grand opening celebration

A regular priced ticket to enter the museum costs 60 UAE dirham (around $16). The museum is open every day except Mondays. Many items on display will be in Abu Dhabi for the first time, including works by Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci and Paul Gauguin. The first four opening days will also feature world music stars, dance events, workshops and family activities.

se/sms (AFP, AP)