Robert Simon encountered a Leonardo da Vinci portray and obtained emotional. “I cried,” he instructed The Post of seeing the work hanging in Christie’s New York, displayed forward of a 2017 public sale. “Thank God the room was dark. The painting had been through what I had been through. This was personal.”
As chronicled in a brand new documentary, “The Lost Leonardo,” Simon, a respected NYC art dealer and historian, spent years figuring out whether or not or not this portray, Salvator Mundi, was the actual factor. He endured the criticism of naysayers — New York journal artwork critic Jerry Saltz exclaims within the movie, “It is no more real than any of the other dreamed-up scams and schemes…” after calling the work “a made-up piece of junk” — and had his supporters. “It is absolutely a Leonardo,” Martin Kemp, writer of “Leonardo By Leonardo” and artwork historical past professor emeritus in Trinity College on the University of Oxford, instructed The Post. “For something to come from out of nowhere like this is extraordinary.”
Once owned by Simon and two companions, the Mundi began its currently heralded existence as a so-called “sleeper,” bought by Simon and fellow seller Alex Parish in 2005 for a shocking $1,150 by way of a low-key public sale in New Orleans. Nobody knew what it was, a lot much less what it could possibly be value. Simon and Parish had a historical past of discovering sleepers — “Usually you buy one for $1,150 and sell it for $5,000,” mentioned Simon — however this piece proved totally different.
Initial expectations, nonetheless, have been low. “I was pleased that it was a real painting,” mentioned Simon, who didn’t see it in-person earlier than bidding. “But I was staggered by the repainting” — over the unique work — “and the high-quality of the original that I could see.”
The seemingly best-case situation at that time: It was a replica carried out by the grasp’s pupils or studio arms, which might nonetheless make it a significant discover. But Dianne Modestini, the esteemed artwork restorer who was introduced on to restore the portray — which was virtually falling aside after some 600 years of careless therapy — requested Simon to drop by her studio.
She confirmed him particulars of the topic’s lip. “It was so similar to that of the Mona Lisa,” Simon marveled, referring to da Vinci’s most well-known work. “We tried to find an explanation.” But, between this characteristic and others, he added, “The only conclusion was that it had to be by Leonardo.”
Nevertheless, Simon admitted, “I referred to it as a Leonardo but, initially, I never believed it.”
After eight high-stress years of restoration, which included the tattered portray ending up in “five to seven” items earlier than being meticulously fitted again collectively, Simon and his companions acquired their reply. In 2008, 5 Leonardo consultants gathered in London, charged with opining on whether or not or not it was legit. A ebook entitled “The Last Leonardo” mentioned the outcomes gave the impression to be two “yeses,” one “no” and two “no comments.”
“That’s wrong,” mentioned Simon. “Before a 2011 exhibition in London, I wrote to the scholars and they all confirmed attribution to Leonardo.”
That National Gallery present gave the work a de facto seal of approval. Art-lovers lined up and a curler coaster journey ensued. For starters, in 2012, the Dallas Museum of Art expressed curiosity in proudly owning the coveted work. “It was there for nine months,” mentioned Simon, including that funding by no means coalesced. “That was a difficult moment.”
The portray returned to its house owners. In 2013, Sotheby’s reached out and Yves Bouvier, a seller and proprietor of freeports (amenities have been artwork might be discreetly and securely saved), supplied $80 million. Simon and his companions bit. “He definitely got a deal,” mentioned Simon, describing himself as “beaten up” and able to promote. “The next day he sold it [for $127.5 million]. Not bad for a day’s work.”
The purchaser was Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. The Sotheby’s sale worth went public and this work turned a part of a lawsuit: Rybolovlev claimed that Bouvier labored for him as a advisor (taking 1 p.c on items steered his means) moderately than a seller. Bouvier disagreed. Whatever the case, a scorned Rybolovlev put the portray up on the market at Christie’s. That was when Simon loved a second with what had as soon as been his da Vinci.
The work then bought for a record-setting $450 million to Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Attempts to exhibit the portray beneath his possession stalled and its whereabouts will not be precisely recognized. The film factors out that it hung for a time on his yacht. “That is crazy,” director Andreas Koefoed instructed The Post. “Humidity on a yacht is always high. It is not a good place for a painting.”
Simon mentioned he doesn’t resent Rybolovlev’s hefty return and he’s glad persons are recognizing the Salvator Mundi’s historic worth.
“When it sold for that, I felt vindicated,” he mentioned, including that he anticipated it going for $280 million. “At the end, I made more money than I would have ever dreamt. The painting changed my life. I am happy for it.”