Old Masters to New Masters on the Block at Christie's

"Salvator Mundi" by Leonardo da Vinci will be sold in a November sale at Christie's. Christie's

In Walter Isaacson's new book, "Leonardo da Vinci" (reviewed in this week's issue of The Star), there is an extended passage about a work that was long presumed lost but was found not too long ago in a small regional auction house in the United States.

"Salvator Mundi‚" or "Savior of the World‚" will be offered for sale at Christie's auction house in Manhattan on Nov. 15. Purchased by a group of art dealers and collectors in 2005, their efforts to authenticate it ("six years of painstaking research and inquiry," according to the auction house) bore fruit in 2011, when it was unveiled at an exhibition at the National Gallery in London. Christie's has estimated that the painting will achieve a price "in the region of $100 million." Of the only 20 paintings known to be by Leonardo, this is the last one owned privately. 

The painting's earliest recorded owner was King Charles I of England, who was charged with treason and beheaded. It descended into the collection of Charles II and was then sold in 1763 by the illegitimate son of the Duke of Buckingham. The painting disappeared for almost 150 years, and when it re-emerged in a 1900 auction it was assumed to be a copy made by one of Leonardo's followers. When the purchaser's collection was dispersed in 1958, it sold for about $100 at Sotheby's. Its trail went cold again until its rediscovery in 2005. It has since changed hands again, first sold to a Swiss art dealer for $80 million in 2013 and then to "a Russian fertilizer billionaire for $127 million," according to Mr. Isaacson's book.

The unusual decision to sell the painting in the contemporary sale was explained by Loic Gouzer, a chairman of the postwar and contemporary art department at Christie's in New York, in a press release: "Despite being created approximately 500 years ago, the work of Leonardo is just as influential to the art that is being created today as it was in the 15th and 16th centuries."

This estimation is borne out in Christie's auction of Andy Warhol's "Sixty Last Suppers" on the same evening. Warhol, a part-time Montauk resident who died in 1987, made the silkscreen on canvas in 1986. Playing with the same notions of reproduction and copies that had marked much of his work, Warhol used a print of an old oil copy of Leonardo's mural as his image. He made 100 different versions of the work and displayed 22 of them in the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan, which is the home of the original tempera mural.

The estimate for the Warhol painting is $50 million. 

"Salvator Mundi" will be shown at exhibitions in Hong Kong, San Francisco, London, and New York, where it will be on view from Oct. 28 to Nov. 4.

Andy Warhol's "Sixty Last Suppers"Christie's