Lost $200 Million Da Vinci to Go on Show in U.K., Not for Sale

Leonardo da Vinci Painting
``Salvator Mundi,'' a rediscovered painting by Leonardo da Vinci. The work, described by art experts as dating from about 1500, will be included in the exhibition ``Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan,'' at the National Gallery, London, opening on Nov. 9. Photograph: Salvator Mundi LLC via Bloomberg. Copyright Salvator Mundi

A rediscovered Leonardo Da Vinci painting, valued by dealers at a record $200 million, is no longer for sale. The work is due to be included in an exhibition at London’s National Gallery starting in November.

The image of Christ, once owned by King Charles I, was acquired in the mid-2000s by the American art dealer Alex Parish and is currently owned by a group comprising him and at least two other traders, according to two persons with knowledge of the matter who declined to be named.

“There were some discussions with a museum concerning the possible acquisition of the painting, but it hasn’t been offered for many months,” said the New York-based private dealer Robert Simon. “I’ve assured the National Gallery that the painting isn’t on the market and that there are no plans to sell it after the exhibition.”

“I have an interest in the painting,” said Simon, who began studying the Leonardo in 2005. “I’m coordinating the research and representing the owners.” He declined to reveal who is in the group or the Leonardo’s price when it was on the market. He described its condition as “typical for a work of about 1500.”

“Salvator Mundi,” a 2-foot-high (0.6 meter) panel painting showing Christ half-length holding a crystal orb, will be among more than 90 works on display in “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” running from Nov. 9, 2011, through Feb. 5, 2012. The museum in Trafalgar Square has stringent guidelines to prevent being compromised by commercial interests. The value of privately owned paintings may be considerably enhanced if they’re loaned to public exhibitions and included in the catalogs that accompany them.

Gallery Guidelines

“When the Gallery considers a painting for a loan exhibition which is owned by a dealer or known to be for sale,” Michelle Gonsalves, the National Gallery’s senior press officer, said in an e-mail, “the Gallery will weigh up the advantage to the exhibition in including it: the benefit to the public in seeing the work and its contribution to the argument and scholarship of the exhibition as a whole.”

The permanent collection loan policy is different, she said. So that the museum isn't used or perceived as a shop-window for potential sales, any loan to the collection should be immediately removed from the wall if the owner is considering a sale.

Simon issued a statement yesterday describing the provenance, conservation and authorship of “Salvator Mundi.” Scholars at the National Gallery and other institutions have agreed it is by Leonardo, making it the first painting by the artist to have been discovered since 1909. It is described as dating either from the late 1490s or from about 1500, when the “Mona Lisa” was painted. Only about 15 oils by the Italian Renaissance master survive, said the statement.

Leonardo Follower

The painting was sold at auction by descendants of the U.K. collector Frederick Cook in 1958. It was described as the work of the Leonardo follower Boltraffio and fetched 45 pounds (now $72). More recently, it was part of an American collection, said the statement.

The Leonardo had been offered for sale after being acquired six or seven years ago at an estate auction in the U.S., ARTnews magazine reported in June. The original Leonardo composition had been revealed after the removal of layers of later overpaint.

Potential buyers were being asked about $200 million for “Salvator Mundi,” making it the most expensive work of art ever offered for sale, said dealers. An offer of $100 million had been turned down, they said.

Jackson Pollock

The highest price achieved for a work of art is the $140 million paid for the Jackson Pollock abstract, “No.5, 1948,” in a private sale in 2006, according to the New York Times.

The auction record for an Old Master is the 49.5 million pounds given for Rubens’s “Massacre of the Innocents” at Sotheby’s in 2002. Titian’s “Diana and Actaeon” was bought by the U.K. on behalf of the National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland for 50 million pounds in 2009.

“If and when it comes on the market, anything is possible,” said the London-based dealer Jean-Luc Baroni, who was the underbidder, on behalf of a collector, when a drawing by Raphael sold for 29.2 million pounds at Christie’s International in 2009.

“Leonardo is the biggest name,” Baroni said. “It just depends on whether a buyer can be found who is comfortable at that price level. Maybe there’s a Chinese or a Russian who’s prepared to pay it.”

The appearance of “Salvator Mundi” at the National Gallery in November will be the first time the cleaned painting has been seen in public, dealers said. Visitor numbers may be boosted by the success of Dan Brown’s 2003 bestseller “The Da Vinci Code.”

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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