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.
“As you may know, at Christie’s we like to push boundaries. We like to disrupt things a bit.”
And disrupt they did Wednesday night at their Rockefeller Center headquarters. At 7:45 P.M., after a 20-minute bidding war, the rare-oil-on-panel (catalogue Lot 9B) was hammered in at $400 million by auctioneer and global president of Christie’s Jussi Pylkkänen, more than quadrupling its unpublished presale estimate of $100 million and easily surpassing the previous record for a work of art sold at auction, set by Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) (1955), which sold for $179.4 million at the same house in May of 2015.
The buyer was a telephone bidder on the line with Alex Rotter, chairman of the postwar and contemporary art department at the house. The sale capped a record night at the Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art auction held at the Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, which reached a sale total of $785,942,250.
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. Undeniably Salvator Mundi has a deep impact once you stand in front of it. Among those bearing witness were musician Patti Smith and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who will play Leonardo in a forthcoming biopic.
But Salvator Mundi was not always prized this astronomically high. Here is a short breakdown of the turbulent history of the painting by Leonardo da Vinci:
• 1500 – Leonardo da Vinci paints Salvator Mundi, likely for King Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany
• 1625 – Believed to have been commissioned by the French Royal Family, the painting accompanies Queen Henrietty to England when she marries King Charles I
• 1651 – King Charles I dies in 1649, and shortly thereafter the canvas is used to settle part of his massive debt
• 1763 – After remaining in the Royal family’s collection for years, the painting goes missing—and doesn’t surface again for 150 years
• Late 19th century – The painting enters the collection of the Virginia-based Sir Frederick Cook
• 1958 – Salvator Mundi pops up at a Sotheby’s London auction on June 25, 1958. Attributed to Boltraffio, who worked in da Vinci’s studio, it sells for £45 to someone named “Kuntz”
• 2005 – The canvas surfaces again at an American estate sale. New York art dealer Alexander Parish purchases it for another bargain price of $10,000
• 2013 – Having authenticated the work as a bona fide Leonardo, Parish and a consortium of fellow dealers sell it to “freeport king” Yves Bouvier in a private Sotheby’s sale for a cool $75–80 million. Later that year, Bouvier turns around and sells it for $127.5 million to the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.
• 2017 – Rybolovlev puts the painting up for sale at Christie’s. It fetches $450.3 million