The soap balloon of the art market

The year 2017 was for the art market the passing of a threshold, which ten years ago, the actors of this market were only hopping to attain: Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, was sold for $ 450,312,500.00, a price which was 250% higher than the price paid by the owner of the painting in 2013. This event “changed the rules of the game” – how a representative of Christie’s has declared as a conclusion to all the discussions about the authenticity, restoration and the provenience of the painting.

The piece has been painted by Leonardo Da Vinci in 1500 and was discovered in an exhibit in 2011 at the National Gallery in London. It has been considered the lost original of the artwork owned by the queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I of England in 17th Century.

In 2005, the painting has been bought for less than ten thousand dollars and was repainted on multiple areas. After that it has been cleaned up and a lot of researches were done and was sold to the Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier for 80 million dollars in 2013.  After a short period of time, the artwork was sold again to the Russian art collector Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, whose family was part of the administration of Christie’s the auction house.

From the moment the sale of the artwork has been announced by Christie’s (in October 10th 2017) thirty thousand people have seen the exhibit promoting “Male Mona Lisa”, in Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and New York.

The auction of the Da Vinci’s artwork hasn’t been longer than nineteen minutes and the name of the happy owner of the piece was made public after few weeks by the New York Times: the prince Bader, a close encounter of the prince heir of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman al Saud.  Few days later, officials from Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, where the painting was going to be exposed, have declared that Salvator Mundi was bought by the Ministry of Culture. What is very important is that the artwork will be shown publicly in different museums around the world. The incredible price of the artwork has been drove up by the rarity of Da Vinci’s paintings, less than twenty recognized art pieces and all of them are in museum’s collections.

It has been one hundred years from the time when another Da Vinci’s masterpiece was noticed by the public because of the it’s theft. In August 15th 1911, the Italian Vincenzo Peruggia has stolen Gioconda from Louvre Museum without knowing that his felony was going to make the masterpiece famous. The painting image has been printed in newspapers and the art piece was found after two years, in December 1913. Beyond the mystery surrounding Gioconda (Madonna Lisa del Giocondo), her enigmatic smile and the fame of Leonardo da Vinci, this theft has been an impulse for all art market.

Fifty years after, Jacqueline Kennedy has made a proposal to André Malraux, The Minister of Culture of France, to show Gioconda to the American public. Special preparations were necessary to transport the art piece to the United States. An anti bullet glass box has been made with temperature and humidity corresponding to the safe transportation of Gioconda. For six weeks, the Da Vinci’s painting has been exposed at the National Gallery in Washington and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and was seen by two million people. For this occasion, the masterpiece has been insured for 100 million dollars (Houpt, 2008: 19). In 2017 this sum adjusted to the rate of inflation was almost eight hundred million dollars, making Gioconda the most expensive painting in the world. We could ask the question if Salvator Mundi, an unknown painting by Leonardo Da Vinci had sold for five hundred million dollars how much will sale for Mona Lisa if it would be for sale?

In 2016, Pablo Picasso has been the best sold artist, with three thousand two hundred eighty-two art pieces sold for 312.2 million dollars (cf. The International Magazine for Art Collectors). In 2017, have been sold two thousand six hundred fifty-nine artworks by Picasso, for the price of 433,8 million dollars. He was the most prolific artist of his time creating over fifty thousand art pieces in seventy years.

After Leonardo de Vinci and Pablo Picasso, on the top of the sale in 2017 was Jean-Michel Basquiat, with one hundred five artworks sold for 351.5 million dollars; the piece Untitled (1982) sold by Sotheby’s has been bought for 110.5 million dollars. On the six place is the Sleeping muse (1910) by Constantin Brâncuși. On the same sale top is Andy Warhol, Claude Monet, Marc Chagall (also on the top in 2016), Fernand Léger and Wassily Kandinsky. The big surprises of 2017 were the Asian artists Chen Rong (Six Dragons, 49 million dollars), Zhao Lingrangand Li Gonglin (Treaty of Bianqiao).

According to the reports, the growth 14% of the global sales in the first half of the year 2017 (for contemporary art) is demonstrating “a new prosperity period“. In 2016 the art collector and expert David Nisinson has declared that was a state of uncertainty about the art market because of the elections in United States (New York Times). But after the sale records in 2017 the situation is relaxed and the sales are unexpectedly the highest.

Silvia Suciu


Houpt, Simon, Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft, Publisher Vellant, 2008;

Hook, Philip, A History of Art and its Dealers, Baroque Books and Arts, 2017;

Blouin Art+Auction, The International Magazine for Art Collectors, January 2018, „Of Basquiat, Bacon and Auction Outlooks”, p. 16 -21,

Photo explanation:

A lot of visitors in front of the masterpieces: Salvator Mundi and Mona Lisa.

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