Dmitry Rybolovlev and Leonardo Da Vinci painting

Russian oligarch could lose millions when he sells his Leonardo Da Vinci painting

Dmitry Rybolovlev and Leonardo Da Vinci paintingGETTY / REUTERS

Dmitry Rybolovlev could lose millions next month when he sells his Leonardo da Vinci painting

It is one of the greatest treasures in the art world, hailed as the “holy grail of Old Master paintings” and one of fewer than 20 surviving canvases by Leonardo da Vinci.

And at Christie’s next month the Renaissance artist’s masterpiece Salvator Mundi, an ethereal portrait of Christ dating from early in the 16th century and the last known privately owned Leonardo work, will be auctioned.

The guide price is “in the region of $100million”.

Which is odd – because the man selling the painting bought it just four years ago for a great deal more than that. Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev paid $127.5million for Salvator Mundi in 2013 as part of a massive spree that saw him splash out $2billion on 38 works by artists including Picasso, Gauguin, Rodin, Rothko and Klimt.

They were all procured through Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who runs a company specialising in tax-free storage of works of art and luxury goods in Luxembourg and Singapore.

But since 2015, Rybolovlev has been selling off his collection – all, it seems, at prices significantly lower than he paid.

The oligarch is now embroiled in a legal dispute with his onetime dealer, alleging that Bouvier falsely represented the original costs of the works, effectively “marking them up” so he paid more than their true value.

Bouvier denies the allegation. According to court papers, Rybolovlev recouped “less than $50million” when he sold Gauguin’s Otahi painting in 2015 – around $70million less than he had paid for it.

In November of the same year he sold Klimt’s Wasserschlangen II for $170million, making a $13.8million loss, and in May last year his Rodin sculpture L’Éternel Printemps fetched only $20.4million – less than half the $48.1million he paid.

“The gulf between Christie’s estimates and the original purchase prices of the works is a further illustration of the unprecedented scale and audacity of the fraud that the plaintiffs allege was perpetrated by Mr Bouvier,” said Sergey Chernitsyn, a spokesman for Rybolovlev.

After the allegations were first made in 2015, Mr Bouvier was arrested and held overnight by Monaco police and the dispute continues.

Yves BouvierWIKI COMMONS

Yves Bouvier runs a company specialising in tax-free storage of works of art and luxury goods

But the mystery of why Rybolovlev should be offloading his collection remains – and especially why he should be doing so at such a spectacular loss.

The 50-year-old oligarch is ranked 190th on Forbes’ billionaires list, with a net worth of $7.4billion.

He entered business in the late 1980s after the break-up of the Soviet Union, first founding a bank and then as owner of the fertiliser company Uralkali.

After he sold Uralkali in 2010 for $6.5billion he set up a series of trusts to invest in property, including an $88million New York penthouse, a $95million Palm Beach house purchased from Donald Trump, a St Tropez estate and a home in Monaco where he now lives.

He also bought a 66 per cent stake in the football club Monaco and last year daughter Ekaterina bought the Greek island of Skorpios from the Onassis dynasty for a reported $150million.

With so much wealth and so many investments, why should Rybolovlev suddenly appear to be cashing in his $2billion of fine art assets?

Part of the answer may lie with ex-wife Elena. The pair met as teenage students and married in 1987, with daughters Ekaterina and Anna born soon after, but after 21 years of marriage she filed for divorce in 2008, citing his “serial infidelity” and claiming he would hold parties on yachts where he would “share his young conquests with his friends and other oligarchs”.

There followed a bitter legal battle until, in 2014, Elena was awarded a world record $4.8billion settlement.

He contested the ruling and it was reduced to $604million the following year after a court ruled that trusts set up by Rybolovlev for their daughters should be kept separate from the rest of his fortune.

The couple have since agreed on an undisclosed settlement. It was during these protracted and bitter divorce proceedings that the oligarch set about amassing his art collection… a collection that following the divorce he is now seemingly happy to sell on again.

Whatever Dmitry Rybolovlev’s motives for offloading his treasures might be, the reappearance of such a rare example of Da Vinci’s genius has caused huge excitement in the art world.

Leonardo da VinciGETTY

Salvator Mundi, an ethereal portrait of Christ dating from early in the 16th century

“Leonardo was an unparalleled creative force and a master of the enigmatic,” says Loic Gouzer, Christie’s chair of postwar and contemporary art.

“Standing in front of his paintings it becomes impossible for one’s mind to fully unravel or comprehend the mystery radiating from them – both the Mona Lisa and Salvator Mundi are perfect examples of this.

“No one will ever be able to fully grasp the wonder of Leonardo’s paintings, just as no one will ever be able to fully know the origins of the universe.”

Or, it seems, the mystery of why a man who paid $2billion to amass such an immaculate art collection would suddenly be willing to sell it at a loss just four years later.

Posted on; Express.co.uk>>

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