The art world was shocked when a mystery buyer paid a record-shattering $450.3 million for an original Leonardo da Vinci painting – "Salvator Mundi" – during an auction last month.
To put the purchase in perspective, the previous highest price ever paid for a painting at an auction was far less than half of that value. Picasso’s “Women of Algiers" sold for $179.4 million in May of 2015, setting a record at the time.
Now, the mystery bidder behind the purchase of "Salvator Mundi" has been revealed, and it still has many in the art world scratching their heads.
The New York Times has reported this week that Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, a somewhat unknown Saudi royal from an obscure branch of the royal family and no known interest in art collecting, made the record-breaking purchase.
Despite Prince Bader's relatively obscure status, he is seen as a close friend of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and has become more prominent in the kingdom since the crown prince's ascension. According to documents provided to the auction house and reviewed by The New York Times, Prince Bader listed that his fortune comes from "real estate."
Prince Bader is part of the Farhan branch of the royal family, which traces its lineage to an 18th-century Saudi ruler, not to King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the founder of the modern-day kingdom. However, Prince Bader attended King Saud University in Riyadh around the same time or along with Prince Mohammed.
Following the crown prince's quick rise to power, he promoted Prince Bader within the kingdom. In fact, Prince Bader now serves as the chairman of Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which was traditionally controlled directly by the crown prince's family. The Group publishes the renowned Pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat and other publications.
Prince Mohammed also put Prince Bader in charge of governing a commission overseeing the development of Al Ola, which contains an important archaeological site. Enhancing the touristic value of the site has been listed as an important priority of the kingdom's Vision 2030 plan.
Adding another twist to the mysterious purchase, The Louvre in Abu Dhabi, which recently held its grand-opening after years of delay, tweeted on Monday that the painting is "coming" to the museum.
Although Prince Bader's connections to Abu Dhabi are unclear, Prince Mohammed is known to be very close to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Why Prince Bader was willing to pay so much for the painting, and where exactly his funding came from may not be known. But for the time being, this recent purchase shows that new Khaleeji art museums and private art buyers are taking their collections very seriously, willing to shell out unprecedented sums to enhance their profile.