At a Christie’s auction of postwar and contemporary art in New York yesterday, art dealers were stunned at the $450.3 million price a rediscovered painting of Christ by the iconic Leonardo Da Vinci was going for. Larry Gagosian could not hide his surprise as this painting became the most expensive artwork ever sold. His reaction to this was quite literally,

“Jesus Christ.”

“Salvator Mundi,” was formerly owned by England’s King Charles I in the 17th century, and it disappeared around 1900. In 2005, it was bought at an estate sale and, after six years of research and restoration, attributed to da Vinci, the first such rediscovery in more than 100 years. Before the auction, Christie’s secured an irrevocable bid by an anonymous investor, meaning it was sure to sell.

A 19-minute bid for this painting saw offers as high as $200 million, $300 million and $350 million fall short. After a duel for the painting, Alex Rotter, the auction house’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas, placed the winning bid on behalf of an unidentified client.

This 500-year-old “Christ as Salvator Mundi” which was estimated at $100 million was the highlight of Christie’s evening sale – an unconventional move by the auction house because of its vintage. The previous auction record for an Old Master painting was held by Peter Paul Rubens “The Massacre of the Innocents” which sold for $76.5 million in 2002.

The salesroom full of millionaires and billionaires included Point72 Asset Management’s Steve Cohen; Blackstone Group LP’s Tom Hill, who collects Old Master works and declined to comment; and philanthropist Eli Broad.

Broad could not conceal his reaction as he was overwhelmed also. “It’s Wild,” he said. “Would you believe it? It’s wild.”

Roland Augustine, co-owner of gallery Luhring Augustine said, “The purchase can be thought of as a business decision.

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“They’ll put it in a museum and have people lining around the corner to see it.”

Russian dealer Maria Baibakova admitted the record could raise the stakes for future sales. “Someone was willing to go all the way for once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Will we see a $1 billion painting? Until now, I didn’t think it was possible,” she said.

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The “Salvator Mundi” piece that stirred up everyone was put up for sale by Russian Billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev’s family trust. He acquired it for $127.5 million in 2013 and it’s been at the heart of an international legal battle ever since. Rybolovlev assembled a $2 billion trove with the help of art entrepreneur Yves Bouvier, but in recent years has been selling off works from the collection, often at steep discounts.

The result of this sale obliterated previous world records for an art sale of any kind, including the auction mark of $179.4 million for a Pablo Picasso painting sold in 2015.

 

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