Former Tate Director Chris Dercon Urges Saudi Arabia to Lend the Vanished ‘Salvator Mundi’ to the Louvre

Dercon says it’s not too late for the owners of the Salvator Mundi to lend it to the Louve’s Leonardo da Vinci blockbuster.

Chris Dercon, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Chris Dercon, the former director of Tate Modern who now heads the French museum organization Réunion des Musées Nationaux–Grand Palais, is urging the “owner or owners” of the infamous painting Salvator Mundi to lend it to the Louvre for the museum’s current Leonardo da Vinci blockbuster.

“To have the painting in the exhibition in the Louvre would have been a win-win situation for all parties involved. I am sad… but the doors are still open,” Dercon said, as reported by Agency France Presse “There is still a way to share this work not only with the specialists but also with the public.”

Dercon was speaking at Saudi Arabia’s “Davos in the Desert” conference, organized by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the purported buyer of the $450 million painting. Representatives at the Louvre in Paris and Abu Dhabi remain tight-lipped about the whereabouts of the work and the status of any loan request.

The Louvre’s show celebrating the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death opened October 24. The Salvator Mundi was conspicuously absent, despite the continued hopes of curators, who had even gone so far as to prepare two copies of the exhibition catalogue—one with the world’s most expensive painting, and one without. Instead, a copy of the composition, attributed to Leonardo’s studio, hangs on its own.

The painting was sold to much fanfare at Christie’s New York in November 2017, but the details of the deal are still shrouded in mystery. Initial reports identified Saudi prince Badr bin Abdullah as the buyer, but it was almost immediately alleged that he had been acting on behalf of Bin Salman. Adding to the intrigue, the Louvre Abu Dhabi then claimed to be the painting’s owner, suggesting Salvator Mundi had been donated to Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism. (Artnet News’s Kenny Schachter reported in June that the painting was being housed on Bin Salman’s yacht.)

Salvator Mundi has not been seen since the fateful auction and it failed to appear at a planned exhibition at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in fall 2018.

Several Leonardo authorities have since come forward to contest the work’s attribution to the Renaissance master, leading to speculation that the Louvre would have credited the painting not to the artist, but to his studio. It’s possible that the owners of the Salvator Mundi are refusing to lend it to the Louvre unless it is identified as an autograph Leonardo.

“Leonardo da Vinci” is on view at the Louvre, Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France, October 24, 2019–February 4, 2020.


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