Salvator Mundi, the world’s most expensive painting, will no longer be part of this year’s highly anticipated Leonardo da Vinci show in Paris after many months of a failed attempt to attribute it to the artist. The painting famously sold for $450 million at Christie’s in New York in 2017 but has been out of sight and unseen ever since. Some of the world’s leading da Vinci experts, including Martin Kemp, professor of art history at Oxford, insist that it is in fact the lost work of the master but others suspect otherwise.
The buyer was identified as the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, who had supposedly wished for it to become the star of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. It was also scheduled to be lent to the Louvre in Paris for its big da Vinci show marking the 500th anniversary of his death.
Its showing in Abu Dhabi was unexpectedly stopped last year and its loan to Paris in the fall will no longer happen, Ben Lewis told the Hay literary festival.
“My inside sources at the Louvre, various sources, tell me that not many curators think this picture is an autograph Leonardo da Vinci. If they did exhibit it… they would want to exhibit it as ‘workshop’. If that’s the case it will be very unlikely that it will be shown, because the owner can’t possibly lend it… The value will go down to somewhere north of $1.5m”, or about €1.35 million.
Lewis has famously published a book on the subject called The Last Leonardo which aims to chart the painting’s extraordinary and messy story.
Originally, the painting was bought by two American art dealers in 2005 from a New Orleans estate sale for $1,175 but in a terrible condition. After years of intense restoration experts were convinced it was a long lost da Vinci piece and it was then included in the National Gallery’s blockbuster show in London in 2011. Since it sold at Christie’s however, there has only been silence, speculation and mystery. Its whereabouts are unknown, although Lewis claims that it sits in a high-security Swiss port storage facility, where it doesn’t attract customs duties as it is classed as being in transit. “It is the painting that dare not show its face,” Lewis said.