The Gray Market: Why the Super Bowl Helps Explain the Flaws in the Latest ‘Salvator Mundi’ Scandal (

Christie's employees pose in front of Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi ahead of its sale at Christie's New York on November 15, 2017. Photo: Tolga Akmena/AFP/Getty Images.

Every Monday morning, Artnet News brings you The Gray Market. The column decodes important stories from the previous week—and offers unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the art industry in the process.

This week, questioning the entire premise of a supposed art-market controversy…


On Wednesday, Dalya Alberge of the Guardian pulled together the prickly threads of a(nother) scandal regarding Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, the endlessly news-making, endlessly disputed painting that has been absent from public view since it sold for over $450 million at Christie’s New York in November 2017. Rather than fixating on its whereabouts, the newly surfaced conflict concerns an older chapter in the work’s colorful history.

But even after turning back the clock a few years, I think the drama is still comically out of step with the long-established realities of the international art trade.

The clash concerns whether or not Salvator Mundi was actively being offered to potential buyers while it was on view in a Leonardo survey at London’s National Gallery between November 2011 and February 2012.

Old Master dealer Robert Simon, who then co-owned the work with dealer Alex Parish and assorted others, stated in a press release a few months prior to the show’s debut that Salvator Mundi was “privately owned and not for sale”—a policy that would satisfy what the Guardian terms the “unwritten rule” that public collections should refrain from exhibiting works available on the open market.

Simon recently doubled down on his claim in the London Review of Books after art historian Charles Hope published a lengthy piece implying otherwise in the publication’s January issue.

Although the main thrust of Hope’s missive is to attack the painting’s attribution to Leonardo, his critique also includes a pointed description of the work as “supposedly not for sale” just before alleging that Simon and Parish “began to look for buyers soon after the exhibition closed,” based on fellow art historian Ben Lewis’s Salvator Mundi-dissecting book The Last Leonardo.




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