The Daily Mail has a whopper of a yarn about the $450 million Salvator Mundi sale: The publication suggested that a representative for the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and the de facto UAE leader Mohammed Bin Zayed were behind the bidding war, because actually both just thought the other was rival Qatar, according to palace sources. Documents leaked to the New York Times the following month revealed the buyer was Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah. Later some palace insiders specified that the purchase was on behalf of his close friend, the country’s crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Now DailyMail.com suggest that the de-facto United Arab Emirates ruler Mohammed Bin Zayed also sent a representative to bid on the painting at the Christie’s New York auction, in an attempt to secure it for the $1 billion Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, reported DailyMail.com. But neither Arab ruler knew the other was bidding, instead they both feared losing the auction to reps from the Qatari ruling family.
‘The bidding started to get high, and each of them thought they were bidding against the Qataris, and didn’t want them to get it,’ said one source close to the Emirati leader.
Qatar is fierce Gulf rivals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE and its ruling family is well-known for its interest in high end art. So they gave their proxies instructions, saying ‘you can go as high as you want, just make sure you get it’. Eventually It got to $450 million and the Emiratis gave up. They just later fund out they were bidding aginst one another.
Moreover, Dailynews also said that the Emirati palace source have also revealed a further element that increse the costly bungle: In fact, it reported the the Qataris were already offered that painting one year before for just $80 million, and that’s more in the ball park of what it’s really worth, but they looked at it, and they felt it was too Christian for their collection, so they declined. Now the Saudis paid way, way so much for it. Had the seller, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, made the sale to the Qataris he would have sustained a significant loss, having reportedly paid Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier $127.5 million for the canvas in 2013. As it happened, the Russian tycoon turned a profit of a cool $322.8 million. Salman’s $450 million purchase was condemned by critics of his regime. Indeed, the acquisition happen just during a time when the Saudi government had implemented austerity measures due to the country’s ailing economy, and the crown prince was conducting a corruption crackdown, arresting family members over their alleged profligate self-enrichment. So, under this pressue to get rid of the painting also after realizing he hadn’t been bidding against his rival Qatar, Salman struck a deal with his Emirati counterpart to swap the painting for a superyacht called The Topaz.
‘They came up with this idea. MBZ had a yacht, it’s called the Topaz, and it was valued at $450 million, exactly what MBS [Mohammed Bin Salman] paid for the painting. So they did a swap.,‘ the source said.
So MBS is supposed to have signed the Da Vinci over to the UAE Ministry of Culture so it could go to the museum, and he got the yacht. A week after the auction the Emirati government announced the new addition to its collection in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, much to the surprise of art fans around the world.