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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

World’s most expensive painting under indictments: Sotheby’s vs. Rybolovlev

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A court in New York is currently hearing a lawsuit filed by the Russian billionaire Dmitri Rybolovlev against the renowned auction house Sotheby’s. The accusation is that Sotheby’s helped the Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier in the sale of 15 works of art and paintings. The accusation: Sotheby’s helped the Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier to defraud Rybolovlev in the sale of 15 works of art and paintings. A US district judge has already dismissed eleven of the charges, but four more have yet to be tried, including the sale of the world’s most expensive painting “Salvator Mundi”, writes Legal Tribune Online on 09 March 2023.

Image above: Salvator Mundi, Leonardo da Vinci atrributed, circa 1500, via Wikimedia Commons

Dmitry Rybolovlev, a current member of the Forbes list of the world’s richest people, claims that Yves Bouvier took too much from him as a collector of works of art by selling them as an intermediary. Bouvier is also accused of creating fake provenances for the artworks to drive up the price. Rybolovlev argues that Sotheby’s helped Bouvier in these illegal deals by providing the auction house with confidential information about the works.

In total, the lawsuit is about the sale of 15 works of art and paintings worth almost one billion US dollars. The works include works by Picasso, Modigliani and Leonardo da Vinci. The sale of the painting “Salvator Mundi”, attributed to the universal genius Leonardo da Vinci, is one of the four remaining charges. Currently the most expensive painting ever sold at auction, it fetched a retail value of US$450.3 million (including fees such as buyer’s premium; net exactly US$400 million) at Christie’s in New York on 15 November 2017. The owner of the painting is the Saudi royal family under Mohammed Bin Salman.

Sotheby’s has denied the allegations, claiming that it was not involved in Bouvier’s illegal activities. The auction house has also argued that most of the allegations are time-barred. The court’s decision is eagerly awaited in the art world and could have implications for the trade in artworks.

It remains to be seen how the case will turn out – and whether the auction house Sotheby’s will be found guilty. However, the trial will undoubtedly influence public confidence in the art market and the handling of confidential information in the industry. It is hoped that this case will also help to improve the regulation of the art market and increase transparency in the brokering of works of art.

The FAZ also reported on this topic on 09 March 2023 in an article by Ursula Scheer.

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