Sophisticated Living Indianapolis

MAR-APR 2018

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In the world of art and antiques, jaded professionals are prone to mock words like "unique" and "important," all the while using them when necessary to influence potential buyers to take note of a particular object. The truth is, to borrow a bit from Mark Twain, there are no new discoveries, only recycled works that we try to package up into the coveted "fresh-to-market" treasure the collecting audience so desperately wants to find. But, every once in a blue moon, a work of art or material culture is found that is so astounding an oversight, the entire world joins the art industry in breathless wonder. Such was the case when the venerable Christie's auction company announced the fall sale of a portrait, known as Salvator Mundi (Latin for 'Savior of the World') by one of the most famous (and possibly the most talented) individuals to have ever lived, Leonardo da Vinci. Known as the ultimate Renaissance man, Leonardo was an accomplished painter, certainly - but also a brilliant scientist, mathematician, astronomer, cartographer and writer. He invented and envisioned concepts and contraptions that would not be developed for hundreds of years after his death. Of his roughly 15 or so works that still exist, two are recognized worldwide and parodied often: the Mona Lisa and e Last Supper. Based on style and the time period in which he lived and worked, Leonardo's paintings would be described, considered and sold as "Old Masters," the term that refers to works by European artists prior to 1800. In the auction world, as with most other industries, marketers rely on the old adage "fish where the fish are biting," grouping similar styles of art, antiques and collectibles into auctions that appeal to a certain genre of collectors–presuming that when you appeal to a category loved by this defined group, you have a better chance of achieving the highest price for each item. However, Christie's announced that Salvator Mundi would be included in its fall Post-War and Contemporary Art auction in New York, and set among works by modern masters like Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and Alexander Calder. A studied, romantic depiction of Christ holding a translucent, rock crystal orb in one hand while giving a benediction with the other, Leonardo's painting stood in stark contrast to the whimsical colors and abstract forms of nearly every other work in the high- powered evening sale. As a few in the art world pondered why such a significant, in fact unique, painting would be sold out of context, most recognized that Christie's wasn't really selling an oil on wood panel by the world's most famous painter. ey were selling a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they chose an audience known for staggering wealth and egos to match. You see, of the fewer than 20 known paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi is the only work to have been owned by a private collector and available for purchase. And, Contemporary Art buyers are known to love owning something that no one else can touch–literally and figuratively. As the sale date approached, Christie's took the painting on the tour of a lifetime, exhibiting it in salerooms across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and culminating in a weeks-long preview at the company's headquarters in New York City's Rockefeller Center. So popular was the exhibit that patrons waited for hours to have just a few moments standing in front of the masterpiece. Christie's even made a video to document viewers' reactions, mounting a camera at the base of the painting and editing emotional moments of awe and wonder against a backdrop of powerful music. As my teenage son might say, the opportunity was "well-played" by Christie's. As the art world rumbled and grumbled about the authenticity and condition of the painting, the people who mattered (potential bidders) frothed at the mouth, and estimates and guesstimates as to a final selling price were debated like Super Bowl odds in Vegas. Who would pay millions for a painting that no one can even guarantee was painted by Leonardo? ough the painting had been documented as a commissioned work during his lifetime, multiple copies had been created over the years by students and followers of Leonardo. Records tracing the original work leave gaps of decades through the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries; and, remarkably, when this example came to auction in the 1950s, it was sold for about $50 as a very damaged version by one of Leonardo's lesser pupils. In 2005, the painting came to auction again, this time at a small auction company in New Orleans. A handful of dealers who specialize in Old Masters put together a partnership and bought the painting for less than $10,000, gambling that underneath an absurd amount of overpainting lay a treasure like no other. Investing in a quality restoration and respected authentication, the team managed to have the painting displayed at the National Gallery of Art as an original Leonardo, and successfully parlayed their investment into a $10M sale to a Swiss dealer in 2013. Each time the painting changed hands, the sales price grew exponentially, until Christie's hammer fell on an historic night in November for $400,000,000 plus fees to the buyer, which brought the final price to a record-setting, earth-shattering $453M. For more information about the Salvator Mundi, or to view the moving video "e World is Watching" by Christie's, visit https://tinyurl.com/LeoAtChristies. sl Amelia Jeffers is an nationally-known auctioneer and appraiser who has worked in the fine art, antiques and bespoke collectibles market for over 20 years. Curating a Lifestyle: Once in a Lifetime Written by Amelia Jeffers 58 slmag.net

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