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Art Traders Bring Lawsuit Against Sotheby’s for Flipped Da Vinci Painting

A trio of New York art traders are planning to sue Sotheby’s for alleged fraud over the resale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World), ca. 1500, report William K. Rashbaum and Graham Bowley of the New York Times. The plaintiffs sold the work via the auction house in 2013 for $80 million (it was originally purchased at an estate sale in 2005 for less than $10,000). They did, however, become angry after learning that the Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, the man who bought the painting, sold it once more to Russian billionaire and art collector Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million. The traders want to find out if Sotheby’s knew that the painting could’ve been purchased for such a record-breaking price and whether or not they were misled into selling the work for a smaller amount by Sotheby’s because Bouvier is an esteemed client.

Sotheby’s claims it did not know that Bouvier had Rybolovlev waiting to buy the work, and the auction house filed papers last week in a Manhattan federal court to preemptively block the lawsuit. A lawyer for Sotheby’s said that the plaintiffs are “apparently experiencing seller’s remorse . . . trying to gain the benefit of a subsequent sale price that Sotheby’s had nothing to do with.”

Rybolovlev, a major collector, has accused Bouvier of deceiving him over the purchase of thirty-eight other paintings, which cost his family trust nearly $2 billion. Rybolovlev had assumed that Bouvier was receiving a commission on the sales, but found out instead that he’d taken nearly $1 billion for himself by buying the works first and then reselling, or “flipping,” them to the collector with exorbitant markups. Bouvier was arrested last year in Monaco due to criminal charges filed by Rybolovlev. Of the thirty-eight paintings bought by Bouvier via Sotheby’s, twelve were resold to the Russian collector.