'Rediscovered' da Vinci painting sells for $450M

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Lost for years only to resurface at a regional auction in 2005, it is one of fewer than 20 Da Vinci paintings generally accepted as being from the Renaissance master's own hand, according to Christie's.

"It is every auctioneer's ambition to sell a Leonardo and likely the only chance I will ever have", Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie's president, said in the release.

The oligarch has accused Yves Bouvier of conning him out of hundreds of million dollars by overcharging him on a string of deals, including on the Da Vinci, and pocketing the difference.

In 2005, a consortium of art dealers, including New York Old Masters expert Robert Simon, bought the painting at auction for $US10,000 ($AU13,200) restored the work and set about having it authenticated.

The winning bid for the piece, titled "Salvator Mundi" ("Savior of the World"), was four times Christie's pre-sale estimate and smashed the world record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.

A rare painting by Leonardo da Vinci auctioned in NY on Wednesday night fetched over $450 million, making it the most expensive painting ever sold.

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The 26-inch-tall (66-centimeter-tall) Leonardo painting dates from around 1500 and shows Christ dressed in Renaissance-style robes, his right hand raised in blessing as his left hand holds a crystal sphere. "The excitement from the public for this work of art has been overwhelming and hugely heartening".

Christie's said most scholars agree that the painting is by Leonardo, though some critics have questioned the attribution and some say the extensive restoration muddies the work's authorship.

Loic Gouzer, the chairman of Christie's postwar and contemporary art department, said the work of art attracted crowds of people while on exhibition in Hong Kong, San Francisco, London and NY in the weeks leading up to Wednesday's auction. Art collectors consider Salvator Mundi as the "male Mona Lisa" making it a legendary piece.

Christie's says it belonged to Charles I, after possibly being made for the French royal family and taken to England by Queen Henrietta Maria when she married the English monarch in 1625. Svetla Nikolova, who is from Bulgaria but lives in NY, called the painting "spectacular".

The painting has an interesting sales history.

Gouzer, the co-chairman of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's, talked of the "incredible journey" this sale had involved. It's wonderful it's in NY. It is the 12th painting to break the $100 million mark at auction, and a new high for any old master at auction, surpassing Rubens's "Massacre of the Innocents", which sold for $76.7 million in 2002 (or more than $105 million, adjusted for inflation). It was long believed to have existed but was generally presumed to have been destroyed.

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