Sotheby’s Drawn into Dispute over Leonardo Paintings Valued over $12.5 Million

The long-running dispute between Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev against a Swiss businessman who operates the biggest art storage facilities around the world has now drawn in Sotheby’s which has joined the dispute over a Leonardo da Vinci painting.

The auction house’s role in the private sale of “Christ as Salvator Mundi” to Yves Bouvier, president of Natural Le Coultre, that operates Geneva Freeport, was brought out in a preemptive petition by Sotheby’s who shot with a request to a federal judge for an order clearing it of any wrongdoing in the sale.

Sithbey’s said that a consortium of dealers that include Warren Adelson, president of Adelson Galleries, New York art dealers Alexander Parish and Robert Simon sold the painting in 2013 to a company controlled by Bouvier for $80 million. The painting was resold to Rybolovlev for $127.5 million by Bouvier. The auction house said in a filing in Manhattan federal court Monday that claiming they were shortchanged on the sale, the dealers’ group is now threatening to sue Sotheby’s for the difference.

The global art market is keeping a close watch at the international battle. For the works by da Vinci, Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso, the Russian fertilizer billionaire has accused that he had been cheated to through overcharging of anything between $500 million to $1 billion during the course of a decade by the freeport mogul and said that he was a victim of cheating and fraud.

While Simon declined to comment on behalf of the consortium, Rybolovlev also declined to comment on the Sotheby’s filing.

Sotheby’s said in the court filing that the auction house didn’t make any money on the sale and therefore had nothing to do with the private deal Bouvier struck with Rybolovlev.

Sotheby’s said in the court filing that at an estate sale in Louisiana in the early 2000s, Parish had apparently bought the painting for less than $10,000. Sotheby’s said in the filing that it has helped in the authentication of the painting as having been done by da Vinci around 1500 even though it was long believed the work was a copy of a da Vinci.

Sotheby’s said in its complaint that the group that sold the painting may be “experiencing seller’s remorse.” “The defendants no doubt wish they had made even more money,” the auction house said.

An order that would essentially declare that Sotheby’s is not liable to the selling group for any losses they claim to have suffered from the sale was asked for bby the auction house in the court filing.

The case is Sotheby’s Inc. v R.W. Chandler LLC, 16-cv-09043, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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