The bellwether November gigaweek of art auctions starting Monday promises drama, with the most talked-about inclusion in a New York contemporary art sale in years — and a last-minute exclusion of works by Norman Rockwell.
What is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) doing in Christie’s sale of postwar and contemporary art Wednesday night, sandwiched between Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Latvian-born Vija Celmins?
Simple. At these important biannual auctions, the evening contemporary sales are where the world’s wealthiest art collectors do their buying. And Christie’s is expecting Leonardo’s recently rediscovered “Salvator Mundi” to sell for at least $100 million.
A guarantee of a minimum, undisclosed bid, by a third party, ensures that the price is certain to set a new high for an old master at auction, beating the $76.7 million achieved in 2002 at Sotheby’s in London for the Rubens masterpiece “The Massacre of the Innocents” ($83.5 million today).
And when fees are added, it should also exceed the colossal $110.5 million spent by the Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa for a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at Sotheby’s contemporary auction in May. The allure of Leonardo has already inspired Paramount to buy the film rights to Walter Isaacson’s newly published biography of the Italian Renaissance artist, with Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead.
“It’s an iconic picture and an iconic name,” Jean-Luc Baroni, a dealer in old masters, based in London, said of the Leonardo. “By putting it in a contemporary sale, they shine a big light on the painting.” And for clients of contemporary art, “the price level might sound less prohibitive,” he added.
Impressionist, modern and contemporary art with an estimated value of least $1.6 billion will be offered at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips. The value of these consignments, which include works by Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Fernand Leger and Franz Kline, as well as, incongruously, a Ferrari racecar, represents an increase of more than 46 percent over the equivalent auctions last November.