The Lost Leonardo (2021) Movie Script

A sleeper is a painting
that's being offered
almost entirely at auction...
Which is clearly by a much better artist
than the auction house has recognized.
A sleeper hunter is someone
who looks for these mistakes.
And that's what I do. That's what I do.
So I find this painting
that's cataloged as after Leonardo.
It's a copy after the lost salvator mundi,
the savior of the world,
that we know Leonardo did.
Jesus is not an easy sell.
But for whatever reason...
This picture attracts my attention.
And I call Robert Simon.
We have purchased paintings together.
We've done very well with them.
He enjoys the same hunt.
Alex called me and said...
"Have you seen this picture
down in New Orleans auction?"
He said, "yeah, lsawit too.
What shall we do?"
And we decided to buy it.
We're gonna buy it.
We agreed on a price.
Alex arranges for the shipment.
I think it was sent ups
on a truck to New York.
And we're rolling.
- Rolling.
- Yeah.
- Rolling.
- Good.
I'm gonna open with a very broad question.
Why do you think the salvator mundi
has caused so much fuss?
First, let me say this.
This is the most improbable story
that has, I think,
ever happened in the art market.
Everybody wanted it to be a Leonardo.
And so everybody took
the most optimistic view they could
of it as a Leonardo.
And perhaps it is a Leonardo.
It's not even a good painting!
I believe that a picture has its own power
and that power is experienced only truly
when you're standing in front of it.
This is simply a matter of economics
when you boil down to it.
And greed. Basic human, uh, foibles.
The picture came in a cardboard box,
which is kind of what you'd expect
for the sort of money we spent.
And I took it out...
And two things are immediately apparent.
And I mean... within five seconds.
One, there's clearly
a great deal of overpaint.
Restoration on the face of Christ.
There's clearly a large swath
of the painting...
That is untouched, UN-restored...
And absolutely period.
By that, I mean circa 1500.
I'm thinking,
"this is an extraordinary object."
But what it is, I don't know.
But we have to find out.
It's a work from around the year 1500,
probably by one of these artists
so close to the master
that it deserved, really,
to have, um, the best possible care.
I'm Evan beard.
I, uh, run the art services group
at bank of america.
We 're the largest lender against art.
We manage about 100 museum endowments
around the country.
This picture,
it tells both an art historical story,
but it also tells the history
of financial markets,
tells the history of the rise
of social and cultural capital.
So they bring the picture to probably
the top art conservation professional
in the entire field,
dianne modest/hi.
He comes over
carrying this painting in, um...
A black plastic garbage bag.
And I take the painting out of the bag
and put it on an easel.
There are very lovely passages
and other passages
are very damaged, overpainted.
I still didn't know what it was
and I brought it to Mario in the bedroom.
Mario modestini is a celebrated
painting conservator of all time.
He also vetted the ginevra de' benci
for the national gallery.
The only Leonardo
in the western hemisphere.
This is a man who's seen
a lot of Leonardo
and he might be interested
in seeing the picture.
At the time, he was 98 years old
and housebound.
I said, "Mario, look at this picture."
What do you think of it?"
And he suddenly
kind of paid attention to it.
And he said,
"this is by a very great artist."
And he said, "I don't know who it is,
but it's the generation after Leonardo."
I took some solvents from the cabinet,
acetone and mineral spirits,
and I rolled cotton wool on a stick.
Then I began slowly to remove
the varnish and some retouching.
And one of the things
that immediately appears
a first position of the thumb.
This is called "pentiment."
It's an artist's first idea.
The thumb was subsequently moved
to a different position.
And you don't usually find that in a copy,
but it's not proof
that it's definitely the original.
Uh, at least it wasn't proof for me.
As I remove retouching,
the thumb appears immediately,
as does, um...
A, um, lot of damage in the head.
I notice that there's
a very wide white fill,
quite recent, that is covering a crack.
This crack that runs through the panel
is actually from a knot
that's low down in the center.
Next day, dianne calls me.
"Bob, I've cleaned the picture.
And you have to come over and see it."
I'm faced with two things.
One is a picture that I see
is severely damaged,
but all of the very amateurish,
brownish, reddish paint that was
an attempt to create a beard is gone.
So I knew that it really
needed conservation treatment
at the very highest level.
Mario dies in January.
And I began to work on the salvator mundi
in my studio.
I would...
Carry on a conversation
with Mario the entire time.
I didn't talk to him out loud.
Except maybe once or twice.
But I would just have
this dialogue with him in my head.
I could hear him say,
"he looks like he has a toothache."
And I would do it over again.
Or he would say, "nose is crooked."
Mario's face
and the salvator mundi's face, you know,
they kind of shift back and forth
in my mind.
One evening, I am wrestling
for the tenth time
with retouching a small loss,
which is just above the lip, right here.
And there is a transition in this area
from the lip to the upper lip,
um, that is imperceptible.
There is no line there,
for the edge of the lip
is exactly what is present
in the same area of the Mona Lisa.
My hands are shaking.
No one except Leonardo
could have painted this picture.
I leave the building
and call Robert and say,
"the painting is by Leonardo."
I think at that point...
"What can we do?
What is there to do with this picture?"
There are only,
by most people's count,
about 15 leonardos known.
And to say,
"I have found a picture like this,"
is, in our circles, akin to saying,
"I had a spaceship on my lawn last night
and I saw some unicorns."
It's just so far-fetched.
Don't even try to convince yourself
that it's right,
because you're just gonna
look like a fool.
"The most famous artist
of the high renaissance."
Those paintings are heavily documented.
And, all of a sudden, we have this one.
It disappears for hundreds of years.
And then it turns up in america?
In New Orleans?
Oh! I see.
Here's the lost Leonardo that somebody
once mentioned in a book.
When you go back to old masters,
the provenance is very important
because that line of ownership
tells its story.
Where did this object come from,
and in what context
did it land in the moment
it's in right now?
So, you know, Robert spent
a lot of time going through archives
and starting to piece together
a provenance,
because any picture, if it doesn't
have a provenance, there's doubt.
There's reasons for people
not to believe what it is.
I was able to trace the
painting's whereabouts to the year 1900,
when it was sold at a London auction
as attributed to luini.
But then the trail went cold.
I looked through old British inventories
from the 17th century
and I found two possible citations
in the collection of Charles I.
And my colleague Margaret dalivalle
found one in the collection of Charles ii.
Our painting does not have
the royal brand on its reverse,
as the panel has been
thinned and rebacked.
It seems possible, but not provable,
that this is the same painting.
But still today, we don't know exactly
which one it might be.
Particularly in the old masters' space,
opinions matter more
than facts at any one time.
And you always start
with the two or three
who are most willing
to potentially listen to you
that this could be
by the hand of the master.
When you're a museum curator,
you quite often get sent images
by e-mail,
transparencies, whatever they might be,
of pictures that people hope might be
lost or forgotten masterpieces.
And I have to say that for the most part,
they are, to put it politely,
somewhat disappointing.
So when I was sent a transparency
of the salvator mundi,
I was, [have to say, somewhat skeptical
about what one would see.
And I looked at it and I thought,
"gosh, this feels powerful."
And I felt it needed
to be seen in the flesh.
So he suggested that he would invite
the leading scholars on Leonardo
to see the painting
in kind of the neutral territory
of the painting conservation lab
at the national gallery.
What I was hoping to do in gathering
the scholars at the national gallery
was to look carefully at the picture
and how it spoke to that group of people.
I'm Martin kemp,
emeritus professor of the history of art,
University of Oxford.
The salvator mundi came out of the blue
literally as a surprise,
because there's been no authentic
Leonardo painting for over 100 years.
So you don't sit there waiting
for one to come along.
We knew that Leonardo had been involved
with the subject of the salvator mundi.
We also have two drawings at windsor,
very beautiful red chalk drawings
for draperies,
one for the chest
with the gathered drapery,
and the other for the arm and sleeve.
So we know he was involved
in planning that.
There are quite a lot of copies.
I think we're now up to plus 20.
But I thought that if Leonardo
had painted an original,
the chance of it turning up
was very small.
A Leonardo
can be several different things.
There's works that are fully accepted
from the hand of the master,
and you will see them labeled by Leonardo.
But there are also workshop of Leonardo.
He was guiding perhaps
a student on the work,
but there's not firm agreement
that the entire work
is from the hand of the author.
You have circle of Leonardo 's,
followers that did work
in their style and in their manner.
And then finally,
follower of Leonardo,
who is doing his picture
in the artist's style.
If this picture was the follower
of a follower of Da Vinci,
it would be worth
what Mr. Simon paid for it, $1100.
If it was a student of,
say he was working under Da Vinci
at the time, like boltraffio was,
it would be exponentially
more valuable than that.
And if it was by the hand of the master,
then it would be, not exponentially,
but exponentially
upon exponentially more valuable.
Uh, the curve is rather absurd.
We had already begun
to plan the Leonardo exhibition,
which had some major loans
already agreed.
The issue was how
to take this picture to London.
It was unframed
and a special box was built for it,
and it was small enough
so that it could be hand-carried
and go through the X-ray machine.
The next day,
I go to the national gallery,
where it awaits the arrival
of the invited scholars.
You're dealing with the ego
and dreams of academics.
Every academic wants to make a discovery.
I'm trying, when I'm going to London,
not to set up expectations.
Expectations are dangerous
because you end up
seeing what you want to see.
I decided to play it as cool as I could,
and looked at it,
and clearly, it's got a presence.
Leonardos have a strange presence.
They are very assertive,
but at the same time very ambiguous.
And Leonardo does that.
Other people can't.
I'm Maria Teresa fiorio.
I worked in the museums
of the city of Milano.
I always have a magnifying glass with me,
which may seem pretentious,
but it actually serves me well
in these circumstances.
It means I can shut up
and just get on with looking at something,
rather than having to ramble on about it.
So there's an amazing moment.
I didn't really get any answer,
I didn't get any direct answer from them.
They were... I also knew not to insist.
So did you get to talk
to all of the scholars
and did you ask them directly,
"is it Leonardo?"
I sometimes think that it's better
to hear opinions over...
The course of a conversation.
So there was certainly
no moment where we voted,
or where I put this question
to people directly.
It was much more a kind of sense
of what their response was.
To me at least, the response
in the room felt very positive.
It felt as if there'd been...
That discovery was confirmed in a way,
and that this group of scholars, um,
was as excited as I had been.
Nobody asked me
a formal opinion about this painting.
It was just... I shouldn't say a chat,
but something like that.
So the scholars were just brought in
for an afternoon to look at it?
Brought in, yes.
They looked at it and said,
"looks good to me"?
Well, they were open
to the fact that it was a Da Vinci.
They named the scholars and said,
"these people authenticated the painting"?
- Yes.
- Oh, god.
There is a suspicious aspect to it,
in that the provenance
of the painting is very murky.
It's ghostlike, from where it came from.
So there's a question there.
Maybe it was a week
or week and a half later,
the national gallery called me
to tell me that basically
everyone had agreed
that the picture was indeed by Leonardo.
This was the moment we had to say,
not only to each other, but to ourselves,
"this is real. This really is real.
This is a Da Vinci
and we're currently the owners of it."
How long would you queue
to see an exhibition?
These Da Vinci fans
stood in the cold for hours.
It's like watching your child
go out into the world
and just hoping that they don't fall down,
scrape their knee,
that nobody hurts their feelings.
This is Leonardo's
rediscovered salvator mundi
that has astonishingly turned up
in the United States of America.
It sort of seduces your soul.
It's calming just to be near it.
Finding a Leonardo is not something
that you can do every day.
So they presented it as a Leonardo.
As Leonardo. Yes.
Okay, so that was their own decision.
- Yes.
- Okay, so...
We found it as a Leonardo
in the exhibition.
Before the exhibition,
the national gallery makes a press release
where it's described as a sort of test,
but when the exhibition opens,
the painting is labeled
as a full-autographed Leonardo.
Why this difference?
So putting "attributed to,"
or "ascribed to,"
or "possibly by, " or one of these phrases,
would, I think,
have been to distort my own view,
and, um, to really,
in a way, confuse the issue still further
that this was the lost picture
by Leonardo of the salvator mundi.
I felt the national gallery
was in a good place
to put this picture on view,
and I have to say, had I felt
anything differently at that point,
we would have made
a very different decision.
My name is frank zdllner.
I'm working on renaissance art,
Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo.
I saw the salvator
in the exhibition in London,
and my first impression basically said,
"okay, this is an interesting painting,
uh, but there's something very strange."
For example, the curls
are sort of very schematic
and the blessing hand, the flesh tones,
looks like a pupil to me.
And then you have this overall aura,
the overall light.
It's something which is very, very good.
But this is exactly the part
which has been restored.
So this is a quite paradoxical situation.
You have the old parts
of the painting which are original.
These are by pupils.
And you have the new part of the painting,
which look like Leonardo,
but they are by the restorer.
In some part, it's a masterpiece
by dianne modestini.
But that's ridiculous,
because I can't paint like Leonardo.
I mean, it's very flattering,
but it's absurd.
I think she has done a great job on it
as a painter.
But one can ask
if she maybe has overdone it a bit.
I think it's more leonardesque
than Leonardo had done it.
Well, to me, the work is not by Leonardo
because I don't recognize his technique.
What struck me first was the hand.
Because the lifted fingers
were absolutely wrong
because, notably this one,
because it seems to rotate over itself,
which, of course, is impossible.
He studied human anatomy extensively.
Imagining that...
Such a work led him
to paint wrong hands...
Can't be thought about. It's unthinkable.
We need a little distance
to judge this painting.
Attribution issues are not decided
in one or in ten years.
They are decided in ten,
in 20, in 30 years.
And it may turn out
that in 50 years' time, people say,
"okay, how could these idiots
at the early 21st century
see this as a Leonardo painting?"
There's been a lot of noise and so on.
How has it been for you
to be through that?
What do you feel is at stake
for you, personally, in this case?
- Nothing.
- No?
You're not gonna get anywhere. Sorry.
You could say I'm a maximalist.
There's not much wall space left,
but there's always somewhere else.
I haven't used the ceiling yet.
Everyone in this country now,
and I guess the world,
talks about fake news,
and all lies and politics,
and all of the hypocrisy that you see.
But the thing is, what scares people
the most, in my business, is the truth.
What's the reason that the national museum
would show this painting?
Simple. Unfortunately,
it's to boost the visitors.
They have no right to exhibit a painting
that hasn't been 150% scrutinized
and, uh, vefled
that it is what it purports to be.
And in this case,
that painting was nowhere
near that stage of authentication
where it would be warranted
to be exhibited
in such a tremendously reputable
and influential museum.
It's just not right.
I mean, whenever
there's a lot of money involved,
the world becomes a bunch of worms
intertwined when you pick up a rock.
There was no doubt in anyone's mind
where this painting
was ultimately going to end up,
which was for sale.
I'm Warren adelson,
and I've been an art dealer
for most of my adult life.
My first encounter
was at a lunch with Bob Simon,
and he was grinning and he was grinning.
And I said, "what's with you?
What's going on with you?"
He said, "I've got to tell you,
nobody knows this",
but we just had this picture by Leonardo
"in London at the national gallery,
and it's been authenticated."
And I said,
"wow, can I see an image of it?"
And he showed me a photograph of it.
And I thought it was incredible.
I said, "you know, maybe
there's some role for me here."
[Have a history, as you know,
of selling expensive pictures."
80 Warren became our third partner.
When you had to figure out the price,
how did you come about that?
I came up...
Certainly, we came up with an idea
that it was worth in excess
of $200 million.
You know, the desire was not
to put it on the market, essentially.
The desire was for it
to be, um, acquired by a museum.
I made an attempt
to sell the painting to museums.
I'm from Boston.
I went to the Boston museum.
I was close to the Houston museum
through my great friend Meredith long.
I tried the Dallas museum
and the painting was there for nine months
and they tried to raise the money.
So why didn't they buy it?
Um, it was completely an issue of, uh...
Inability to raise the sufficient funds
to acquire it.
My name is bernd lindemann.
I was the director
of the gemildegalerie here in Berlin.
One day I got a telephone call.
It was a dealer,
and he said he has something
which could be interesting
for the gemaldegalerie.
Well, and that was the painting.
Most of the painting is a remake,
and this was, for me, the argument to say,
"no, this is not a painting
for the gemaldegalerie."
I was surprised to see the painting
in the exhibition
at the national gallery in London.
It is a problematic painting,
and I think it's not the role
of serious museums
to present a painting
which is so heavily discussed.
It was very frustrating.
It was a very frustrating thing.
I felt I had the rarest painting
in the world
by the greatest artist in the world,
and I couldn't sell it.
There were so many issues
that are like red flags popping up.
Da Vinci paints on wood.
When he's making these paintings,
he's such a perfectionist.
He's not gonna paint it
on a piece of shit wood
with a big knot right in the middle,
which inherently
makes the painting unstable.
It's just not the way he operates.
I mean, the joke circulating
around the contemporary art world
was that the painting was a contemporary
painting because 90% of it
was painted within the last ten years,
during the restoration process.
Mario and I had a house southeast
of Florence that we restored together.
It's bittersweet
because there are
so many memories there
and so many ties.
Mario used to like to use these little,
you know, small boards to paint on.
Oh, that's one of his.
That's a little picture that he painted.
I think that's Mario.
Maybe it's me. I'm not sure.
Well, yeah.
I had never really painted when I met him.
So he was, um...
Yeah, so he began teaching me to draw,
and to paint, and to draw from these...
I know there are rumors
that I was part owner of the picture,
but that's completely untrue.
People may think that
because my husband was...
He absolutely did own shares
in pictures all the time,
because Mario was also a dealer.
He worked with the best dealers.
That's why I have money,
pictures, things.
No, Mario bought pictures
and shares with dealers,
but he was such a great connoisseur,
apart from being a restorer,
that he was so valuable to them,
but it was with the top of the top.
But I'm not a dealer.
Art dealers, the whole art world
is very tricky and, you know...
You know? And it's, um...
And I'm not...
I'm not that kind of tricky person.
So I don't...
I would never get into that. Never.
And I certainly didn't have anything
to do with this. Uh...
And why do you say
it was more than just a restoration?
I was also involved with the whole process
of attributing the painting
and being a spokesman for the picture,
which I did
because I absolutely believe in it.
I said to Robert one day,
"I don't know how to charge you for this.
It's more than just a restoration."
He said, "when we sell it,"
he said, you know...
"I'll give you what, you know,
I believe you deserve."
So it was not like a fixed percentage?
It was never fixed.
He paid me generously, but yeah.
Geneva, historically,
is a place you go to disappear.
This is a place where nations
negotiate peace treaties.
This is a place where diplomats
and intelligence agents go
to have a neutral territory.
And this is also a place
where businessmen
are able to run sensitive operations
in a very low-voltage, safe environment.
So the painting is sold to yves bouvier.
There are many versions
of yves bouvier.
And the more I have gotten to know him,
the less I think I know him.
The bouvier affair was a bit
the elephant in the room
for investigative journalists
in Switzerland.
And we were able to get access
to a lot of court documents,
and that enabled us to build a narrative,
a storyline that was as close
to the truth as we could have.
Yves bouvier is a quiet guy
who, I think, at the time,
you probably would not have said
is a major player
in the art world, um,
but he played a major role.
He meets a Russian transplant
who really exiles himself in Geneva,
Mr. Dmitry rybolovlev.
We were contacted, uh, by sotheby's...
About a client they had.
Part of the agreement in the sale
was that I'm not supposed
to talk about the trip to Paris.
I can say that I was glad
that it was finally over.
Uh, it was a very trying
and difficult situation.
And I'm really glad I got back,
and the best thing I could say
about it was that it was over.
We were paid the next day.
And from that point of view,
it was cleaned up.
Cleaned up.
Yves bouvier is trying
to convince Mike sazonov.
What he omits to say
is that he already bought it.
That was the
whole negotiation, and all of it is fake.
Bouvier has made this
really quite extraordinary markup
of $47.5 million on a transaction
that took him less than two days.
It's extraordinary and quite frankly,
pretty unheard of in the art world.
New part of the free port.
Yves bouvier inherited a shipping business
from his father.
But yves bouvier realized
that there was increasing demand
for places to store high-value goods.
So he expanded his business
by creating armored warehouses
generally within the perimeter
of an airport,
and these are free ports.
The Geneva freeport is supposed to hold
literally billions
of dollars' worth of art.
My name is Doug patteson.
A former clandestine service officer
with the CIA.
The history of the salvator mundi
and how it's grown in value
is opening eyes to how money
can be moving in different ways
through the free port system.
A free port is a tax-free haven...
Where very wealthy people will often
keep items secret from tax authorities.
So objects can be bought
and sold within a free port,
but no taxes apply because the objects
are considered still in transit.
One of the things
that we've really observed recently
is that paintings are increasingly used
as collateral for loans, bank loans.
A whole infrastructure
has sprung up around this
that allows you, the collector,
who've put millions of dollars
in your art,
you can keep your art
within the free port facility,
get the capital you have invested
in the art out of there and redeploy.
It's not about art and love.
It's about money.
It's about transferring funds.
There's one thing that you cannot remove
from the human beings,
is the greed.
If you sit on valuable goods
and you don't trust your own country,
because, you know,
the fiscal guys are on your back...
Why not store it in the free port
and store it in a so-called whatever safe?
That gorilla is a big smoker.
Interesting guy.
If taxes were reasonable,
people would not have to play that game.
You know, there is this saying
that after drugs and prostitution,
that the art market is the most
unregulated market in the world.
A very opaque world in which you very
often don't know who owns something,
how much it's worth,
who's buying it or who's selling it.
Most of the transactions
are very, very dark.
It's another Avenue to store money.
It's the last vestiges
of the wild wild west.
Russia in the 19903 is the wild west.
And this is also a time
where businessmen had an opportunity
to become exorbitantly wealthy
by taking ownership
in the transitioning of bureaus
that became businesses.
So out of this comes
Mr. Dmitry rybolovlev,
a man who becomes a billionaire
literally overnight
when he floats this potash company
on the London stock exchange.
What you had was someone
who needed to get money out of Russia,
and he found someone
who was quiet, discreet,
and who he felt
he could trust with his life.
The Russian on the run
and the quiet Swiss man,
they forge this alliance
around the acquisition of art.
Yves bouvier had built a network
allowing him to get
all kinds of information
on who owned the paintings,
what was its real value.
And that was priceless in order
to conduct his business.
He was the king because
he was in possession of information
that no one else had.
He made a billion dollars' profit.
That's a good dealer.
Yeah, it's good business.
It's safer to buy a painting
than a piece of real estate
because a piece of real estate
you can always seize it to jump on it.
A painting is buried somewhere
in a free port around the world.
Nobody knows where it is.
Look at the salvator mundi.
Right now, I don't know where it is.
I am so anxious for it
to finally find a home
where people can experience
the extraordinary power of this painting.
Art, to me, is the only truth, really.
And it's really a way of living life,
to communicate with people.
Art doesn't exist in a vacuum.
If it's existing in these great
warehouses that are free ports
as a kind of financial asset...
It would be a shame because it's
something that could be seen by people.
It could have an effect on people.
The whole world is trying to...
Is discussing,
"where the hell is that painting?"
Nobody knows where it is.
The buyer doesn't have to tell
where he puts his painting.
They do whatever they want
with their money.
Who cares?
Only the press, the bad press,
and the people who are curious
are caring about something
that doesn't even concern them.
2014 was really the beginning of the end
for bouvier and rybolovlev.
An article was published that indicated
the price of the final sale,
which, of course, was different
than what rybolovlev had paid.
So once Mr. R. Found out,
he was pretty pissed off.
And that really sparked the actions
that were taken against bouvier
that moved quite quickly after that.
Mr. R. Couldn't look at any
of his art collection the same.
Every time he looked at a painting,
if it was the greatest
masterpiece ever painted,
all he saw was the fact
that he was abused and taken advantage of
by Mr. Bouvier, who was now
the world's richest free port owner.
His markup was 100%.
That's not a crime, it's greedy.
What he was trying to do to screw bouvier
was to destroy his reputation,
to sue him in every courthouse
that would entertain the suit.
He is really very angry,
like a Russian bear
that somebody had stuck something into.
He was furious!
What he wanted to do
was dump all of his art
that were great, fantastic pieces,
but he radically overpaid for them.
So, what he was fully expecting to do
was to lose money.
People think of auction houses
as sort of a passive repository of objects
to sell on behalf of collectors
who decide it's time to sell.
Most of the actual
high-end objects they sell
don't actually come to market in that way.
They are actually out there.
Their specialists
are in the living room of collectors
and telling them it's the right time
to sell this work...
Seventy-one, 72...
It's a hot market for this work,
and they're trying to actually
pull in those objects.
Thank you, all of you,
for one million six. To you, sir.
If they've got the best art for sale,
they'll find the buyers.
So the competition is at the level
of getting the consignments.
You have it. What's your number?
The guy at the auctioneer is always
European with a vague accent.
"Do I have 2 million?"
Oh, John, I saw you bid 3 million before.
Oh, wait. I say!
"We have 5 million."
Thank you very much indeed.
So once rybolovlev,
when he does start selling,
he sells them through christie's.
And, of course,
that is where salvator mundi ends up.
Nothing was wrong with his art,
except for the Da Vinci.
All of the other pieces in his collection
were fantastic pieces.
This was the one black swan in his
collection that had questions around it.
But there is a massive
billion-dollar collection behind it
that could be potential future business
for the auction house.
So christie's had to keep
their client happy.
They went all-in on this picture.
The term "male Mona Lisa"
is used for this object.
The Mona Lisa is insured
for over $800 million.
So I think calling it the male Mona Lisa
makes sense as a marketer.
On a financial front,
it helps to explain the value.
The Mona Lisa, in the early 20th century,
was of secondary importance...
Until 1961, when John F. Kennedy
makes his way to the Vienna summit
and makes a stop off in Paris.
And their culture minister, Andre' malraux,
is completely entranced by Jacqueline.
Jackie whispers in his ear
at one of the evening events
that, "I'd love for you to take
the Mona Lisa to the United States"
so we could show our population
this cultural masterpiece."
Mr. Minister,
we in the United States
are grateful for this loan...
From the leading artistic power
in the world, France.
And lines go down the block.
Most of the people
that were coming to see it
were not coming to see the painting.
They were coming to have seen the picture,
to say they saw the celebrity.
Christie's understood they had
to accomplish the same thing,
where this is the male Mona Lisa,
we need to convince the potential buyer
that you're now buying a global celebrity
that will play into the power
and prestige of your acquisition.
Their primary marketing video
was brilliant in a way
because it never actually
showed the object.
What they show instead
is a series of people
going up to the object
and having an emotional reaction to it.
They even had Leonardo DiCaprio.
They realized that they needed to show
whatever collector bought this thing,
there was a mass following
and that people
were buying into this celebrity.
Christie's released a ton of marketing
that generated traffic, generated hype.
It brought the salvator mundi
into the mind's eye
of so many people very quickly.
This is some kind of an homage
to an artist, the first viral artist,
who was the first
real image maker, who's...
You know, who would have images
that would go all around the world
and be recognized by anyone.
Christie's is in the business of selling.
It's not in the business
of authenticating.
And they did a great job
on the back of that amazing
marketing campaign,
which everybody,
without hesitation, gives plaudits to
as a sort of cynical marketing exercise.
Any serious questions
about its authenticity?
None, really. Uh...
It was, as I said,
almost completely overpainted.
But once that was removed,
after its rediscovery,
the quality of it became very evident,
and, really, there hasn't been
any real question.
Why is it called the male Mona Lisa?
Well, it's painted around
the same time as Mona Lisa.
It's painted around 1500.
And this and the painting
of Mona Lisa probably overlap.
The salvator mundi global tour
took on a life of its own,
to London, to Hong Kong, where there
may be clusters of potential buyers.
I was very opposed to them doing that.
It was reckless...
Uh, to send it around
the world that way. But they...
I couldn't stop them from doing it.
Christie's is mercenaries.
That's a business.
You expect that behavior from them,
and if you're a client of christie's,
you want them to do anything
as ruthlessly as possible to get you
the greatest price for your asset.
In the time I've been at this,
I never remember a picture
becoming sort of a pop culture icon
where lines were literally
around the corner.
This was a cultural event
in its own right.
By the time it came here to New York,
everyone wanted a piece of it.
So christie's, their tag line
is "the last Leonardo."
Normally, what you'd do with an old master
is you'd talk about
the provenance, its composition.
None of that was required here.
They knew they were gonna be appealing
to a subset of the collector base
that was thinking about power and legacy.
"Hey, Mr. Billionaire,
this is your last chance to acquire
the greatest artist
of western civilization."
You have to know your audience,
because it was a trophy
to end all trophies.
It is a work...
That's very subject is power.
The morning of the sale,
I woke up at 6 am.
And had a car fetch me and took me
to cnbc's headquarters in midtown.
The last privately owned Leonardo
Da Vinci painting is going to auction...
You know, there was so much
interest from the financial world.
What would this thing actually make?
- Who are those bidders?
- It's a good question.
I think the bidders are gonna be
a contemporary collector,
a trophy hunter, a private equity
executive, a hedge fund individual,
or a syndicate from the middle east,
Chinese wealthy.
This is a global trophy,
and we'll see where it goes.
I think it has a fighting chance
to make 180 million or more.
The most expensive painting ever sold
in the history of the art world.
Welcome to rockefeller center
here in New York.
You had a completely packed room.
They had to bring in extra chairs,
people were pushed to every corner,
corralled there to try
and take in the action.
Ladies and gentlemen,
we move to the Leonardo da Vinci,
the salvator mundi.
Previously in the collections
of three kings of england.
Going over here to take 125.
Last chance, 125 then.
130? 130 with...
Phones started to go up.
At 180 million,
ladies and gentlemen.
Because that was the most
valuable price ever achieved at auction,
and you could hear an audible gasp
as everyone was sort of waiting
for that final hammer to come down.
Give me 200, 190 is bid. Who...?
200 million is bid. At 200 million.
There it is at 205.
It was hard to tell how much
of the loss of composure was genuine
and how much of it was for the crowd.
At one point, he even has
the hammer held in the air.
There is a certain courtesy
about how long you wait
for someone to decide
if they're gonna make the bid.
In the weeks leading up to the auction,
the team at christie's are receiving calls
from some of the world's richest people.
At the very end of this list
is this one bidder
that they've never heard of before.
They needed to make sure
he was a real bidder.
So they told him and his team,
"listen, if you want to be
a bidder in this auction,"
you're gonna have to transfer 10%
"of what is the maximum amount
you would be willing to pay."
The next morning,
the accounting department came over
and said, "you won't believe this",
but that guy just transferred $100 million
into our account overnight."
Oftentimes, there is
a predetermined price of sorts.
Very few people,
or sometimes only one person,
knows what that final amount will be.
220 is bid,
a casual hand goes up at 220 million.
Are you all done here, sir? Are you out?
240 million?
So we're all done?
Maybe not.
Don't take the photograph quite yet.
Still two of you in the game here.
It became clear that,
okay, we're in a duel.
On one telephone, you had someone
who wanted to be completely incremental,
that was playing with his own money.
And then you had someone
who was using house money.
And that house money
was probably not an individual,
but maybe, maybe even a country.
I thought so.
300 million.
Salvator mundi by Leonardo da Vinci.
320 million, we're still not done.
At 330 million now.
Back to francois.
350? Okay.
At 350 million
for Leonardo's salvator mundi.
- 400.
- 400 million!
Salvator mundi selling here at christie's.
$400 million is the bid,
and the piece is... sold.
The art world is stunned,
they are shocked,
they can't believe it this morning
after the astonishing record-breaking
sale of a rare masterpiece.
Who paid 450 million?
Probably a billionaire that bought it.
Your response to me was, "well, duh!"
It's a very anonymous world,
and people aren't always
quick to say, "it's me."
I spent all this money,
I have all this money.
"Come to my house,
take whatever you want."
You know, there's privacy
because there's fear
around showing your wealth to that degree.
We'll not comment on the identity
and the geography of the buyer.
Even if it's decided months,
years, decades later
that it's not really by Leonardo da Vinci,
those $450 million
will live out in eternity
as a value put upon this work of art.
This director of metropolitan
museum of art
wrote on his Instagram page
after the sale:
"Watch out, 85% of the painting
is by dianne modestini."
And that then was picked up by...
A whole lot of people
who didn't know anything.
There were people of all walks,
museum curators,
art historians and regular people,
just chiming in.
People who had never had
any weight, or interest even,
were suddenly decrying this image
as false and a fraud.
Then all these, you know,
Internet trolls started saying,
"oh, that's because
it's not really by Leonardo,
and nobody accepts the attribution."
This is just for self-publicity
and to create a scandal,
and nobody really cares what the truth is.
One of the people that spoke most vocally
about the salvator mundi
being fake was Jerry saltz.
I've been looking at art for 40 years,
and this is a made-up piece ofjunk.
In drag.
The salvator mundi, it is no more real...
Than any of the other
dreamed-up scams and schemes
by people that may not mean
to be flimflamming...
But in the end,
they all went along for the ride.
Which is the lesson of our time.
I go along with the lie,
I don't say anything because
I don't want to be kicked off
the island of love, of power,
of money, of influence.
So you have museum people,
you have collectors,
curators, art historians.
Of course, the auction houses
who make a big deal about everything.
"Oh, it's our dream painting."
Always pushing.
Everybody was complicit
in dreaming up this beautiful dream
of a lost Leonardo da Vinci.
People can get lots of media attention
by saying something
outrageous about this painting.
Anyway, so I'm just kind of
trying to make a case for myself.
I have continued to study
the salvator mundi.
I went to Naples to look at a copy
of the salvator mundi.
I've tried to explain some of
the questions about the painting.
There is all this documentation,
so I put everything up on a website.
And I want to give anyone
who is interested
all the information that I have
so that they can
make up their own mind.
After this, I will have my life back.
Because everything I know,
or probably ever will know,
about this painting
is on this website.
Let's hear it for salvator mundi.
Do you feel that you have
to defend yourself in your work?
No, I don't.
A $450 million purchase price,
and nobody knows who's buying it?
The intelligence community
is absolutely gonna want to understand
where did the funds come from,
where are they going.
It's very difficult to check auctions.
The reason for that
is because of the opaqueness.
Is there money laundering taking place?
Is there a shifting of assets
to support terrorists?
Is it state money?
That anyone would pay
that kind of money
for a piece that had questions about it
is very strange.
The intelligence community
knew very quickly
who had bought it
and how they'd bought it,
and chooses to release that information.
Around the end of 2017,
I'm based in London.
An old contact of mine
from the middle east
gets in touch and wants to meet.
He refuses to tell me why we're meeting,
but when we sit down together,
he shows me some rather
extraordinary documents.
And these documents are the details
of the arrangements for the sale
between the christie's
auction house and the buyer.
Reports suggest
that the Saudi Arabia's crown prince
is the mysterious buyer
of a rare Leonardo da Vinci painting.
Prince Mohammed bin salman,
who has recently become
the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia.
What was so extraordinary
about this purchase
is that prince Mohammed bin salman
had made this splurge
at the same time that he was
cracking down on the Saudi elite,
including many of his own royal cousins.
He had imprisoned many of them
in the ritz-Carlton,
forcing them to try to turn over
hundreds of millions of dollars
that he said had been stolen from
the Saudi government that he wanted back.
His family, by the way,
is the Saudi government.
Right around the same time, he had spent
half a billion dollars on a yacht,
and a short time later,
$300 million on a French chateau.
And then there's one more wrinkle,
which is the content of this work.
Most islamic scholars,
including the ones that are dominant
in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
believe that islam forbids the depiction
in art of any of the prophets.
So it's a sacrilegious painting.
And Saudi Arabia has never yet
publicly acknowledged
that he or the government of Saudi Arabia
is the owner of that work of art.
Have you been able to obtain
any information about
when and where
this piece of art will be revealed?
No. No one knows.
It remains a complete mystery.
I had unequivocal confirmation
that the painting was on the boat.
I got this story and, like,
all of a sudden it was in one newspaper,
then it was in another newspaper,
then it was translated into
one, two, three, four languages.
CNN is on the phone.
Time magazine is on the phone.
I didn't think it would strike
an international nerve
and become the most-read article
I've written in my entire life, 30 years.
The art newspaper,
after I wrote the article
disclosing where the painting was,
they literally tracked
the boat to the Netherlands
and it was just a few-hour drive
from the louvre.
And now to the blockbuster
exhibition of the year,
perhaps of many years,
a celebration of Leonardo da Vinci,
500 years after his death.
This is the 500th anniversary
of Leonardo's death.
This is the big show.
There is huge expectation
that if it does turn up,
the curator, Vincent delieuvin, will have
a chance to nail the attribution.
Everybody's really talking
about the salvator mundi.
Wrrr it show up?
And we 're dealing with an owner
that is very secretive.
The missing u. S.-Based journalist
is no longer alive.
The coalition's airstrikes
may amount to war crimes.
The arabian states, they want
to sort of be seen as cultural nations,
and for this cultural nation building,
they need to place the salvator mundi
in the Paris louvre show
because it's a political thing.
That's what art is being used for today,
this kind of soft political capital,
where we may have sliced up a journalist
or all of these terrible things,
and then you cover it
with a nice painting and it's a diversion.
If the louvre says it's an
autographed Leonardo, that is a big deal.
It's not just art history,
it's world politics.
The curator of the louvre
at this moment has a problem
because, politically,
he cannot refuse the salvator mundi.
He cannot refuse the attribution
to Leonardo,
but nobody at the moment knows
what's going on there.
We know that the painting
was brought to Paris in June, 2018,
where it was taken to the louvre
laboratory for a top-secret examination.
So it's just about six days
before the opening
and I receive the plan
for the installation of the exhibition.
And on that plan is the salvator mundi
given pride of place in the final room.
If it were to be presented
as a true Leonardo,
he would make the institution ridiculous.
So I wrote to the president
of the French republic:
So we're all waiting to see
if the salvator mundi shows up.
It would be good if the
salvator mundi belonged to the public.
The louvre has all the latest
imaging equipment
to examine the painting,
and that would be wonderful.
And I arrive
at the advance press preview
and immediately run
through the entire exhibition to see,
is the salvator mundi in the last room?
And there on the wall is a bare spot
with three picture hooks.
We think, "are they about to hang it?"
Is this a moment of theater
that they have planned for the press?"
And we then,
to our huge disappointment...
We get a shrug of the shoulders
from the louvre.
One painting not here,
the still controversial salvator mundi.
Here instead,
a copy from the same period.
People were transfixed, and I kept...
I said to a couple that...
I said, "it's a copy.
Don't you know that this is a copy?"
Some of them looked a little confused,
but they kept taking pictures of it.
I was hoping up until the last minute
that it would turn up.
The most notorious
no-show is the salvator mundi.
It's actually shrouded in mystery,
because no one has seen it
since the sale in 2017.
People can say whatever they want.
It's like putting out wildfires.
You know, one goes away and another one
immediately crops up somewhere else.
It never, never stops.
A few days ago,
I had a really strange experience.
I visited an art historian at his house
and he had some books on the table.
Among them was a small catalog
of the salvator mundi.
Published by the louvre.
And I was really taken aback and I said...
I said,
"what is this? I've never seen it."
He said,
"oh, I bought it at the exhibition."
And I said, "oh, that's strange."
I started to look for it.
Not for sale anywhere.
I asked our librarian
if he could track it down,
and, uh, he said,
"it doesn't seem to exist."
I have heard nothing about this book,
and I find out that
it is produced by the louvre
on the occasion of the exhibition.
And it is full of some
new technical examination
they have done of the picture.
The book recapitulates
the history of the painting,
then goes on to attribute it
securely to Leonardo.
This is the first time that we have
an independent body, really,
doing a thorough analysis of the picture.
But it's difficult to know
what to believe
when you've got a lost painting,
a lost book,
and no access to the scientific
examinations themselves.
Let me say something about
institutional knowledge and authority.
It's not as real and as foolproof,
and as clean, immaculate...
As you think.
It is never neutral.
Power is never neutral.
You know people at the louvre.
What do they say about the rumors?
So why did mbs pull the work
at the last minute?
What he wanted to do
was elevate the salvator mundi
to the level of the Mona Lisa
by placing it not amongst
the lesser da vincis,
where the work would be subjected
to every academic
who wanted to make a name for themselves
by opining on the work.
He wanted it opposite the Mona Lisa
as a civilizational masterpiece.
It was just a raw power, you know,
"we own this thing, we're gonna
show it to the world when we're ready."
For shit sure
the painting's gonna turn up again.
You can stick it
in some place in the desert
and start to lure tourists
from all over the world to see it
and stand in front of it like Disneyland.
That's gonna happen.
At this moment, it is a Da Vinci,
and even the debate
adds some attractive force to it.
Even that there are folks
that may disagree
makes you want to go look in its eye
and see for yourself
what all the fuss is about.
My greatest regret is that
it did not go to a museum.
And of course, everyone's idea
of the picture is now formed
by mystery and legend and speculation.
I still have lots of art supplies here.
It would be very surprising
if all the experts suddenly said,
"oh, yes, this is absolutely by Leonardo."
And there are no documents.
It cannot be proven, you know,
factually, beyond a doubt.
You okay?
Of course I wish that I could move on.
But the salvator mundi is always with me
because I'm never allowed to forget.
The mystery is sort of solved,
but not really.
And this, again, is a whole new
sort of rabbit hole, hall of mirrors.
The painting hasn't been seen
since it was sold.
Once described as the
greatest discovery of the 21st century,
the mystery surrounding
salvator mundi continues today...