Saudi Arabia's young crown prince is the real buyer behind the record-shattering $450.3 million sale of a Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" painting last month, according to the Wall Street Journal.
A report in The New York Times this week revealed that the mystery buyer, who purchased the artwork at an auction, was Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud. However, a U.S. government intelligence community and an Arab art-world figure confirmed to WSJ that Prince Bader was actually a proxy for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The painting, which far-surpassed the previous auction price record holder, will be displayed at the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi in the UAE, according to the museum's Twitter account.
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.
Initial media reports already pointed to the connections between Prince Bader and Prince Mohammed.
Despite Prince Bader's relatively obscure status, he is seen as a close friend of Prince Mohammed and has become more prominent in the kingdom since the crown prince's ascension.
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.
Although it's unclear why Prince Mohammed decided to invest so much in the Da Vinci painting, the 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.