Is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is keeping the Leonardo?; Sotheby’s has a big weekend in Hong Kong; Rubens sketch makes €1.62m in France; Lyon and Turnbull Holds First London Sale
This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
The Salvator Mundi Bogeyman
The New York Times published its second story raising questions about the buyer and whereabouts of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, on the front page of the print edition, no less. The first was an editorial in December of 2017.
The Times isn’t the first newspaper to try to make a headline out of the painting not appearing at the Louvre Abu Dhabi as previously announced. The Telegraph spun a similar conspiracy theory last fall. But the Times seems to be hunting bigger game in this weekend’s story which carries David D. Kirkpatrick’s byline. He’s the paper’s correspondent covering the Middle East and the Gulf States.
Kirkpatrick is the reporter who originally identified the Saudi buyer that he believes was working on behalf of the Crown Prince based upon “documents provided from inside Saudi Arabia.” How Kirkpatrick came to possess those documents is anyone’s guess but both the article that the Timesman wrote and the sources who corroborated the reports in other papers suggest they come from the intelligence community and were meant to embarrass the Crown Prince whose crackdown on profligate spending ran counter to his participating in an auction that reset the top of the global art market.
That gets us to the heart of the Times story. Despite the framing about the painting’s whereabouts, the Times is really pressing upon the issue of ownership. Namely, was the hastily arranged announcement that the Leonardo would be housed in the Louvre Abu Dhabi simply a ruse that the buyer no longer feels is necessary:
- “Noting that it was never clear how Abu Dhabi might have acquired the painting from the Saudis in the first place — whether by a gift, loan or private sale — some have speculated that Crown Prince Mohammed might simply have decided to keep it.”
It’s not clear whether the “some” who have speculated are intelligence community sources especially from rival Middle Eastern intelligence services with an interest in embarrassing the Crown Prince like the ones who provided surveillance information on the Kashoggi murder or simple Kirkpatrick himself speculating. Either way, the story isn’t so much news as trying to put pressure on the various parties to show their hand.
Rubens Oil Sketch of St. Margaret Sells for €1.62mMercier, the auction house in Lille, France, has sold the re-discovered Rubens sketch it was offering with a €200-300k estimate. The final price was €1.62m.
Lyon & Turnbull Sell Abdul Latiff Mohidin for £245k
Lyon & Turnbull, the Scottish auction house, held its first sale in London last week where there were a couple of surprises like this work, similar to ones in an exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris held last year, by Malaysian modernist painter and poet Abdul Latiff Mohidin.
- According to the auction house, the work was “acquired by the north of England vendor in London in the early 1970s, Growth I, signed and dated 1968, was sold at a record £245,000 to a phone bidder against a £30,000-50,000 estimate. The 2ft 6in (77cm) square oil dates from the latter part of Mohidin’s so-called Pago Pago period that brought him his first wave of international recognition.” Similar works had been included in an exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris last year.
Sotheby’s Hong Kong Sales Cycle Is On Fire
It’s been a big weekend at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong starting with the Sunday night sales of Asian Modern & Contemporary art. The marquee Evening sale of Modern art made HKD 793m ($101m) and was led by Wu Guanzhong’s Lotus Flower (I) , above, which made an unexpected HKD 130m ($16.6m) against estimates of HKD 15-20m. The big earner in the sale was, of course, Zao Wou-ki whose half a dozen works in the sale accounted for slightly more than half of the sale’s value or HKD 438m ($55.8m).
The next night Sotheby’s did almost as well with Contemporary art both Western and Asian when the Nigo sale made HKD220m and the Contemporary art sale tallied HKD440m. Together those sales were worth $84m. The stunner of the evening was The KAWS Album from the Nigoldeneye, Vol. 1 sale which sold for HKD 116m ($14.7m).
That lot shouldn’t overshadow the new records established for Yayoi Kusama, Interminable Net #4 which sold for HKD 62.4m ($8m) and Julie Mehretu’s Black Ground (Deep Light) which made a remarkable HKD 26.6m ($5.6m).