The final hammer price was triple the amount the art world expected. As one of ATG’s seasoned writers says, “it’s an aberration”. Nothing to see here, you might think, except to marvel at how furiously heated the art market can get.
To underline the sense of unreality, those mischief makers at bookies Paddy Power are offering odds of 8/1 that Salvator Mundi is a fake, and 16/1 that the sale will not go through.
And yet, and yet… now the post-sale dust has settled, it feels wrong to conclude the da Vinci sale doesn’t have at least some relevance for those of us at the foothills, rather than on the summit, of the art market.
1. Discoveries still happen
With the revelatory power of the internet, it’s tempting to think significant art discoveries belong to the past, along with phone boxes and camera film. Salvator Mundi’s story – it was acquired at a US estate sale for $10,000 in 2005 – suggests great discoveries are still possible.
2. The power of marketing
Critics carped that Christie’s use of an ad agency to market Salvator Mundi, and decision to place it in a post-war and contemporary sale, was done to detract from its chequered history.
However, these tactics created a big talking point. Together with memorably billing the painting as ‘a male Mona Lisa’, plus the canny use of video, there was much to admire in Christie’s innovative auctioneering.
Alan Hobart, director of Pyms Gallery, observes that such marketing moves are “the future”. And, we could argue, not the preserve of top tier auction houses, either: we increasingly see dealers and auctioneers, large and small, using video in surprising and engaging ways.
3. Old Masters can make news - and conversation
The top 10 most expensive paintings ever sold were, until last week, all 20th century works. How pleasing it was to see that financial hierarchy altered, and an Old Master inspiring some media brouhaha normally reserved for post-war and contemporary art.
All over the airwaves connoisseurs argued the painting's merits. Everyone else seemed to have an opinion too and wanted to share it – from Bernard, the manager at Dorking's Talbot House antiques centre ("the sleeves on Jesus' garment are wrong") to my neighbour Sally, who admits to knowing nothing about art but was intrigued by Salvator Mundi and its story.
The hammer price may have been stratospheric but last week's sale connected the art world and beyond in many unexpected ways.
“How pleasing it was to see an Old Master inspiring some media brouhaha normally reserved for post-war and contemporary art