Features

The mystery whereabouts of the world’s most expensive painting

The whereabouts of Salvator Mundi, the supposed painting by Leonardo da Vinci has remained a mystery, says Chris Carter. Until now.

190612-Mundi-634
Salvator Mundi: the mystery deepens

A mystery that had been plaguing Salvator Mundi, the world's most expensive painting, since it was sold at auction in 2017, may have been put to bed at the start of the week. Or it may not have. Not the all-important mystery about whether Leonardo da Vinci really did paint it, but the other one where the hell is it?

Ever since Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), supposedly paid an astronomical $450.3m for it, nobody has known for sure where it was.

But on Monday, Artnet News' Kenny Schachter announced to the world that he had found it. "You won't believe where I'm told the painting is today", he teased on Monday. "Apparently (according to his source), the work was whisked away in the middle of the night on MBS's plane and relocated to his yacht, the Serene."

Ahh, so it's on a boat. But where's the boat?"The yacht's location as of May 26 was in the Red Sea off Sharm el-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort town on the Sinai Peninsula, according to Bloomberg ship tracking data", Katya Kazakina reported on Bloomberg. That same day, 26 May, The Guardian published an article stating that art historian Ben Lewis "is convinced that it is in high-security storage in a freeport in Switzerland". Maybe it was, and maybe it still is.

In an article published today, Lewis tells The Daily Beastthat he thinks Salvator is still in Switzerland. "The painting is very delicate", says Lewis. "It is in five pieces carefully glued back together. One wrong move. One excessive temperature and cra-a-a-a-ack." Moreover, he adds in his email, "I hate to think of the picture hanging on the wall of damp yacht". But more to the point, does MBS?

The Serenecost $330m when it was owned by Russian vodka billionaire Yuri Scheffler, according to the Daily Mail in 2012. MBS saw the yacht tied up in the south of France and just had to have it, The New York Times said in 2016. So he dispatched his people to pay Scheffler a visit with €500m ($550m) this is from Wikipedia, by the way. But it does raise the question if MBS is prepared to pay $220m over the odds for a four-year-old boat, how much more over the odds would he pay for a painting of questionable provenance? And what does it say about the prince's eye for art when the painting costs more than the original price of the Serene?

Not that any of it really matters, of course. But it is slightly ironic that we wouldn't even be asking where Salvator is if it weren't for the fact that the Louvre in Paris refused to hang the painting (according to Ben Lewis again) as part of its Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, marking 500 years since the painter's death at least not as an "autograph" work. The world-famous art institution wasn't convinced it was by Leonardo at all.

Was Leonardo da Vinci any good as a painter? I ask this question in the new issue of MoneyWeek magazine, out on Friday. If you're not already a subscriber, sign up now and get your first six issues free. Now that is good value, whatever MBS thinks.

Recommended

How long can the good times roll?
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
Collectables: market in Tintin artwork takes off
Alternative investments

Collectables: market in Tintin artwork takes off

Tintin, the Belgian boy-reporter cum adventurer, is in demand once again. Chris Carter reports.
16 Oct 2020
Collectables: art investors are banking on Banksy
Alternative investments

Collectables: art investors are banking on Banksy

Demand for Banksy’s work shows no sign of abating, says Chris Carter
2 Oct 2020
Lego: building profits from plastic bricks
Alternative investments

Lego: building profits from plastic bricks

The popularity of Lego boomed as bored workers twiddled their thumbs at home. Chris Carter reports
23 Sep 2020

Most Popular

Why commodities could be the best investment for 2021
Commodities

Why commodities could be the best investment for 2021

There’s plenty for investors to worry about right now. But things will inevitably recover. And the sector most likely to do best when they do, says Jo…
22 Oct 2020
Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts
Bank accounts

Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts

Negative interest rates are likely to mean the introduction of fees for current accounts and other banking products. But that might make the UK bankin…
19 Oct 2020
Buying bitcoin could be the best way to play the remote working boom
Bitcoin

Buying bitcoin could be the best way to play the remote working boom

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the move to home working, flexible employment practices and the rise of the “digital nomad”. One of the best …
21 Oct 2020