The world’s most expensive painting? Unprovenance raises doubts

Written by Staff Writer

A million dollar painting that was sold at auction in May 2016 for $450 million is now the subject of renewed scepticism after researchers at a northern New Jersey museum cast doubt on its provenance.

The Saladin masterpiece, “Salvator Mundi” (“Savior of the World”) from around 1500, was added to the Americas Art Gallery’s collection in 2013, when the museum acquired the circa 1780s Spanish etching house Broome Fine Art.

As well as making the purchasing decision, the gallery’s head of acquisitions, Max Greenberg, also thought it would be interesting to commission a team to research the painting’s provenance and discuss the work’s authenticity.

“I have a great deal of interest in 1780s etchings,” Greenberg told CNN. “We had purchased some very old tomes in the past and found we loved reading the engravings on them. We are trying to piece together a picture of what the 1780s was like.”

Cracking the case

The team in question included art historian Barbara Geiss, managing director at Broome Fine Art, and Philip Amman, head of the Study of Early Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. The team took photographs of the painting and related works, and collected information and documents from numerous sources.

The team also contacted an expert consultant in his field and carried out another fact-finding trip to Washington, D.C.

“We did two different sets of experiments … to try and determine if it is a fake,” Greenberg said. “When we started the experiment, it was a very long shot.”

A statement released by the Art Institute of Chicago in conjunction with the Saladin painting revealed that the team found “every possible real etching connection … to indicate that the painting is not based on an authentic illustration.”

It is unclear whether this was sufficient enough to discredit the painting’s provenance, though Greenberg said that the project may still have some value in generating further research from experts.

“We did our best, as a collector myself, to do everything within our power to bring more to the discovery,” Greenberg said. “We have made a very hard decision — we believe the painting is fake.”

Tom Leinbach, the museum’s chief curator, told CNN that that theory had not yet been supported by an outside academic source.

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