Review: The mystery of the world’s most expensive painting is explored in The Lost Leonardo


The Lost Leonardo hits theaters August 27 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Sony Pictures Classics

  • The lost Leonardo
  • Realized by Andreas Koefoed
  • Written by Andreas Koefoed, Andreas Dalsgaard, Christian Kirk Muff, Mark Monroe and Duska Zagorac
  • Classification PG13
  • Available in theaters August 27 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

The international art market is a fabulous subject for documentary filmmakers, with its aerial promise of timeless beauty and its strong guarantee of eternal greed. The lost Leonardo, an in-depth and twisted account of how a damaged panel by an unknown Renaissance artist became Earth’s most expensive painting, is a classic of the genre. Dealers, curators, collectors and critics all betray each other for Andreas Koefoed’s camera as they debate the merits of the famous Salvator Mundi, the painting that some attribute to Leonardo da Vinci and which was auctioned in 2017 for 450 million US dollars. Can this richly restored painting of a golden-haired Christ with a hand raised in blessing really be the work of the master?

With a thriller-like script crammed with interviews with art experts and investigative journalists, The lost Leonardo Follow the painting from a minor New Orleans auction to the dazzling sale at Christie’s to find out how the work has increased its value by 38 million percent in 12 years.

The painting was discovered by an American dealer who unearths undervalued works of art, bought for US $ 1,175 in 2005 and given to the great restorer Dianne Modestini. While cleaning up the over-paint and poor restoration work, she was shocked to find out what she thinks was the loss Salvator Mundi, a painting that Leonardo was known to have produced but which disappeared from inventories centuries ago. The restorer defends both the painting and its later work, scoffing at reviews who suggest the panel is more Modestini than Leonardo. How could she paint as well as him?

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If its role is questionable, it is twofold for the National Gallery of Great Britain. There, curator Luke Syson assembled experts to examine the restored painting, then affixed a strong attribution that powerfully boosted the gallery’s major 2011 Leonardo exhibition. On camera, one of those experts says she thinks the job could be Leonardo’s, but points out that she was never asked to give a final opinion.

At this point, the original owners had something they could sell, but skeptical museums weren’t interested in $ 200 million. Only Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier stepped in with US $ 83 million – and here the documentary takes a detour to explain the freeport storage business Bouvier ran to protect the movable assets of billionaires. Among his clients was Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, who was furious to finally discover the mark-up on the US $ 127.5 million he had paid for the painting, and set out to sue Bouvier. He didn’t need to worry about it: when he returned the painting to Christie’s, who mounted a massive marketing campaign around “the man Mona LisaThe hammer fell to a record US $ 400 million.

Add the commission and it’s US $ 450 million. It eventually emerged that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the purchase. He then reneged on a loan promised at the 2017 Leonardo exhibition at the Louvre. Some sources said the Louvre curators would not make a firm attribution to Leonardo; in one of many key interviews with journalists, this documentary suggests a different reason.

Amidst these unsavory trade deals and questionable professional demeanor – even selfless New York critic Jerry Saltz, a vocal critic, seems more in love with himself than with the truth – the attribution debate is overwhelming. only uplifting part of this melodrama. Using a classic connoisseur’s example, Modestini notes that the area above the character’s mouth, with no clear line delimiting the lip of the philtrum, is painted in the same distinctive way as that of the Mona Lisa. Skeptics, on the other hand, point out that Leonardo was an expert in anatomy, but the figure’s middle finger twists in a physically impossible way. They also wonder why such a well-established artist would have chosen a wooden panel with a large knot – a which eventually produced a long crack that magically disappeared during the restoration of Modestini.

No matter what the experts say, any onlooker can observe the great gap between the damaged original and the perfect restoration. Perhaps the only definitive thing that can be said about the world’s most expensive painting is that no matter who painted it in the 16th century, it is a 21st century creature.

In the interest of consistency across all critical critics, The Globe has removed its star rating system in film and theater to align with the coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, Works of Excellence will be noted with a Critics’ Choice designation throughout the cover. (TV reviews, usually based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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