Louvre Abu Dhabi is looking forward to displaying the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci. The work was acquired by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi for the museum.
Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/ AP pic.twitter.com/4iSUOL5X5A
— Louvre Abu Dhabi (@LouvreAbuDhabi) December 8, 2017
The Wall Street Journal adds a new wrinkle to the Leonardo story saying the true buyer was the Saudi Crown Prince using Prince Bader as a surrogate:
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is the buyer of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci that sold for a record $450.3 million last month, according to U.S. government intelligence and a Saudi art-world figure familiar with the purchase, a disclosure that offers a rare glimpse inside a rivalry between two Persian Gulf nations to scoop up some of the world’s masterpieces.
Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed, a lesser-known figure and a distant relative of the crown prince, was the nominal winner of the auction, held at Christie’s in November, the Saudi art-world figure said, “but he is a proxy for MBS.”
“It is a fact that this deal was done via a proxy,” the person said.
Pay attention to the sourcing on this report. The intelligence community seems to be making an effort to use this information to discredit Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman which suggests the already troubled history of this painting’s recent ownership is not going to calm down any time soon.
Update: The WSJ story seems to have confused a number of outlets (artnet wrote, “Confused? So are we.”) One in particular, the art world’s Mrs. Magoo, went further seems to have missed the fact that the WSJ report doesn’t contradict the NYTimes report at all. To say Prince Bader bought it as a proxy for Mohammed bin Salman only reveals the beneficial ownership. It doesn’t negate Bader’s role in the purchase. (Though it does raise some KYC issues.)
Today, the Louvre Abu Dhabi jumped back into the fray to claim the work was bought for the museum by the Department of Culture and Tourism. Rather than negate the WSJ’s reporting, the quick reaction looks more like the story (and the leaks behind it) are part of a larger story within the Gulf States. Remember that the previous dominant buyers from the region are in Qatar which Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a dramatic conflict with.
Further update: The Wall Street Journal makes this last point itself at the end of a story today reaffirming the paper’s belief that MBS is the buyer:
Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have deep cultural, economic and political ties, which have deepened with the rise of Prince Mohammed, or MBS, as he is often called. The U.A.E. has long tried to establish itself as a cultural hub to compete with political rival Qatar. Both Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in June because of a long-simmering tensions between them.
Here’s the paper’s conclusion on the ownership issue:
Prince Mohammed meant the painting as a gift to Abu Dhabi, according to the person with direct knowledge of the matter.
The Abu Dhabi institution hasn’t in the past been known to bid through agents outside its own staff or advisers.
It remains unclear whose money Prince Bader was spending. The people with knowledge of U.S. intelligence and the art-world figure both said Prince Mohammed was the ultimate customer.
Update: Bloomberg reports that Abu Dhabi is now weighing in on the price of the Leonardo which it, not surprisingly, believes to be the right price:
“We worked very closely with the broker on this piece and we bid on it and it was acquired, thank God, with the price we felt it was right for,” Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism, said on Monday at the Bloomberg Invest conference. “It’s an exceptional piece,” he said. “A lot of us wait for something astonishing, astonishing doesn’t happen everyday.” […]
“We have been eyeing this piece for some time,” Al Mubarak said. “We have seen first hand what Da Vinci means for any museum.”