Two princes and an emirate: Record Da Vinci spurs many 'buyers'

Geneva Matthews
December 11, 2017

The New York Times identified the buyer as Saudi Arabia's Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, who has no history of being a major art collector, but is a friend and associate of Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Alex Rotter, the auction house's co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas, represented the anonymous buyer of the Da Vinci and placed the winning bid after a spellbinding 19-minute contest that saw offers at $200 million, $300 million and $350 million fall short.

A document seen by Reuters showed that a Saudi prince was authorized to purchase the painting on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism. In a tweet on Wednesday, the Louvre Abu Dhabi said it was getting the painting.

The following day, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the true buyer, citing a source in the USA government intelligence community and a Saudi art-world figure familiar with the purchase.

Prince Mohammed, in turn, has been called an admirer of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The firm's website describes him as "one of Saudi Arabia's youngest" entrepreneurs, present in sectors including real estate, telecommunications and recycling.

The document, dated November 12, is addressed to Prince Badr bin Abdullah al Saud and thanks him for "agreeing to bid as undisclosed agent for and on behalf of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi for the artwork" at Christie's auction on November 15.

Making a record-breaking art purchase in his own name might be awkward for the Crown Prince because he is leading a sweeping crackdown on corruption and self-enrichment by the elite of the kingdom, including some of his royal cousins.

Promoted as an encyclopedic museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi opened to much fanfare last month, and now it appears to have secured a work that is sure to attract tourists from all over the world. Prince Bader is now chairman of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group but has no known history as an art collector. "All these rich guys are detained in the hotel and this guy pops up and signs a check for $450 million?"

The identity of the buyer has been a sought-after secret.

It is one of fewer than 20 paintings generally accepted as being from the Renaissance master's own hand, according to Christie's.

If the painting of Christ raising a hand in blessing had been bought by someone who planned to keep it in NY, the buyer would be on the hook to pay an 8.875 percent state and local sales tax, which on a $450 million purchase would amount to around $39 million (30 million euros), said Jason Kleinman, a lawyer who advises art collectors on the tax consequences of their purchases.

"This is not your standard art-market story", art blogger Lee Rosenbaum said today.

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